St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
In order to protect the environment from current and potential threats posed by uncontrolled intentional releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants, the biothreat research community recognizes the needs to be able to detect threats in the appropriate matrices and also consider whether a detected constituent is naturally occurring or a contaminant associated with an accidental or purposeful release. Therefore, sensitive and specific methods for processing and analyzing environmental samples as well as methods to determine the existing risk to the public from endemic microorganisms are needed.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has collaborated with the USGS to analyze soil samples collected during the USGS North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project (NASGLP) for the presence of Bacillus anthracis (Ba), Yersinia pestis (Yp), and Francisella tularensis (Ft). The NASGLP collected over 4800 soil samples across the lower 48 states and analyzed them for more than 40 major and trace elements from 2007 to 2010 (http://minerals.cr.usgs.gov/projects/soil_geochemical_landscapes/).
The USEPA/USGS interagency agreement will expand microbial assessment capabilities for determining background levels of high priority biothreat agents. It is desired to improve upon the microbial processing and analytical methods used to analyze these samples in order to developed methods with lower limits of detection. Reanalysis of a subset of the archived samples will be completed to see if detection has been improved. Select sites may be resampled to evaluate spatio-temporal differences in environmental concentration.
It is also desired to know the relationship between the presence/absence of these biothreat agents and environmental variables such as (but not limited to): geochemical make-up of the soil, ambient meteorological conditions, soil moisture content, land use, past animal outbreaks, etc., to help predict persistence and natural occurrence of these agents in the environment. In order to do so, an interactive GIS model will be developed to map these variables for use as an investigative tool. Being able to analyze samples with confidence and to predict areas where naturally occurring organisms may or may not be located will help decision makers be better prepared in the event of contamination.