Issue Date: January 28, 2008
ACS Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science & Technology
Sponsored by Air Products & Chemicals Inc. in memory of Joseph J. Breen
Disinfection of drinking water is a double-edged sword. On one side is the health benefit of ridding the water of potentially harmful organisms. On the other is the potential formation of unsafe by-products that can cause cancers or reproductive problems. In the early 1990s, public outcry over by-products formed from the use of chlorine prompted some water utilities to switch to such alternative disinfectants as ozone, chloramines, and chlorine dioxide.
Susan D. Richardson, a research chemist at the Environmental Protection Agency's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga., noted that little was known about the disinfection by-products (DBP) formed during chlorination and even less about those formed from alternative methods. So into the fray she leapt, bringing her expertise in mass spectrometry and other analytical tools to bear on the problem of drinking water purity and human health.
Her technical skills and creative, more holistic, approaches have allowed Richardson to identify previously unknown DBPs in drinking water from both chlorination and alternative disinfection processes. Because of her ground-breaking research, "She is without a doubt one of the most important DBP experts in the U.S. and, perhaps, the world," says Gary Siuzdak, senior director at Scripps Research Institute's Center for Mass Spectrometry.
Richardson, 45, received a Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry from Emory University in 1989. Shortly thereafter, she began her career at EPA, first as a postdoctoral research associate, then as a research chemist. She has 94 publications, including articles in Environmental Science & Technology and Analytical Chemistry, and has received numerous awards from EPA and other organizations.
Among Richardson's many accomplishments is the development of novel derivatization techniques for identifying highly polar, hydrophilic compounds that can't be extracted from water. She has also conducted mechanistic studies to determine how potentially hazardous DBPs are formed so their presence in drinking water can be minimized.
As her research is problem-driven and aims to solve human health problems, Richardson considers that her "most significant accomplishment is linking our new chemical DBP discovery work to toxicology." To that end, she has developed numerous and fruitful collaborations with toxicologists, epidemiologists, and risk assessors both inside and outside EPA.
Richardson was the driving force behind EPA's Nationwide DBP Occurrence Study. She designed this $1.2 million, first-of-its-kind project to assess the occurrence of nonregulated DBPs that toxicologists had ranked as likely to cause adverse health effects. The project not only determined the occurrence of these DBPs in drinking water, it also traced the fate and transport of these compounds through water distribution systems.
Rosemarie Russo, retired director of EPA's Ecosystems Research Division, says Richardson's "creativity in chemistry has supported a strong technical foundation for national safe drinking water policy." Ben C. Blount, lead research chemist at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, concurs and says, "Her outstanding research" significantly contributes to "appropriate regulatory decisions in this very controversial area."
Richardson's national and international renown led to her organize and chair the first Gordon Research Conference on DBPs in August 2006. At EPA, she has trained and mentored many postdocs and visiting scientists, especially women. Siuzdak says she is considered "by many of them, including myself, as a role model ... for her research accomplishments ... and for her enthusiasm and dedication to drinking water research to safeguard public health."
When she isn't in her lab, Richardson can be found hunting fossils, making lampwork glass beads, or painting.
The award address will be presented before the Division of Environmental Chemistry.
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