13. Risk-Based Decisions for Contaminated Sediments

Many persistent chemical contaminants in aquatic ecosystems eventually accumulate in sediments where they may adversely affect the benthic biota, become a source of contamination in the water column, accumulate in biological tissues, and enter pelagic and human food chains. Contaminated sediments now appear to be the main source of toxic contaminants in many bays, lakes, and rivers. For example, of the Great Lake's 42 Areas of Concern, 33 have degraded water quality problems associated with contaminated sediments. Because of their potential adverse impacts, the long periods of time associated with natural assimilation of many in-place contaminants, and the high costs of mitigation, sediments have become a focus of concern for EPA.
The following areas of research provide the framework for the competition:

Risk-Based Assessments

Hazard Identification

All assessment techniques, either biological or chemical, need validation of their ability to predict impacts on indigenous aquatic communities. When laboratory data and test systems are being used to predict contaminated sediment impacts, there needs to be a strong lab-to field association. Research is needed to validate these techniques using a risk-based approach. Validation efforts must consider the uncertainty associated with the assessment and the degree of protection offered to the aquatic community.

The effects of contaminants associated with sediments is often manifested through aquatic food chains. Research and mathematical modeling is needed to accurately characterize the transfer of toxic substances from their source to the sediments, from sediments to organisms, and organism to organism.


Short-term sediment toxicity test methods to examine aquatic life effects using laboratory animals exist. In addition, there are some theoretical models to predict whether certain single chemical concentrations will have an adverse impact on benthic communities. Most contaminated sediments contain mixtures of chemicals; thus, mixture toxicity research and modeling both for organic substances and trace metals are needed to complement single chemical assessments. Further research is needed to expand the number and kind of species being tested.

Exposure Assessment

Knowledge of the fate and bioavailability of toxic substances in sediments is sometimes highly speculative. Additional knowledge is needed on: (1) the fate of toxic substances during resuspension, especially during severe events, and biological, chemical and physical factors con
trolling resuspension of sediments, (2) the spatial (horizontal and vertical) and temporal extent of sediment contamination, and (3) biogeochemical partitioning between sediments, water, and biota to better predict bioavailability of chemicals believed to have adverse impacts.

Risk Management

Sediment Treatment

Contaminated sediments requiring treatment can result from either sediment management operations (e.g., maintenance dredging) or remediation efforts. The environmental risks associated with these sediments need to be reduced. For example, better methods to predict the extent to which dredging operations resuspend and transport contaminants to less contaminated areas are needed. Research is needed to develop innovative treatment options for sites with large volumes of contaminated sediment (e.g., harbors).

Proposals that address the above mentioned needs are invited. Proposals must relate how the research will facilitate better risk assessments and risk management decisions.

Funding: Approximately $2.0 million is expected to be available for awards under this program area. The projected award range is $100,000 - $200,000/year for up to 3 years.

The Application

Proposed research projects must be designed to advance the state of knowledge in the indicated areas. The Application Kit for Assistance contains detailed instructions on how to prepare your application. The application kit is available at most institutional offices of sponsored research or may be obtained from EPA at: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
National Center for Environmental Research and Quality Assurance (8703)
401 M Street SW
Washington DC 20460
Phone: (202) 260-3837

Fax: (202) 260-2039
Each application must contain the following:
    A. Application for Federal Assistance (Standard Forms 424 and 424A). These forms must have original signature.

    B. A detailed, itemized budget for each year of the proposed project.

    C. A budget justification describing the basis for calculating the personnel, fringe benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and other costs identified in the itemized budget.

    D. An abstract containing the following information: The project title, the names and affiliations of all investigators, and a summary of the objectives, expected results, and approach described in the proposal. The abstract must not exceed one (1) 8.5 x 11 inch page of single-spaced standard 12 point type with 1 inch margins.

    E. A Description of the Project. This description must not exceed fifteen (15) pages. All pages must be consecutively numbered, 8.5 x 11 inch, single-spaced standard 12 point type with 1 inch margins. The description must provide the following information (1-5):

      1. Objectives: List objectives of the proposed research and/or the hypotheses being tested during the project.

      2. Expected Results or Benefits: Describe the results you expect to achieve during the project and the benefits of success.

      3. Approach: Outline the methods, approaches, and techniques that you intend to employ in meeting the objective stated above.

      4. General Project Information: Discuss other information relevant to the potential success of the project. This might include facilities, project schedules, proposed management, interactions with other institutions, etc.

      5. Quality Assurance: A brief narrative statement (not to exceed two consecutively numbered, 8.5 x 11 inch pages of single-spaced standard 12 point type with 1 inch margins) describing the quality assurance procedures proposed for the project (see section of this RFA on quality assurance).

    F. Any important attachments, appendices, references, or other information may be included but must not exceed five (5) pages.

    G. The resumes of the principal investigator, and co-workers. Resumes must not exceed two consecutively-numbered, 8.5 x 11 inch pages of single spaced standard 12 point type with 1 inch margins.

    H. Standard Form (SF) 5700-48 Procurement System Certification (provided in Application Kit).

    I. Standard Form (SF) 5700-49 Debarment and Suspension Certification (provided in Application Kit).

    J. A list of key contacts (provided in Application Kit) including authorizing representative, payee, administrative contact, and project manager.

    K. Disclosure of Lobbying Activities (provided in Application Kit).

    L. Copy of State Clearing House Approval Notification (see Application Kit to determine if applicable).

    M. In lieu of the Application Receipt Letter provided in some Application Kits, the applicant must include a blank self-addressed, stamped post card with the application.