Environmental Protection Agency Sent 1,900 Responders To <span class="italic">Columbia</span> Shuttle Search; Made 48,400 Debris Collections

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Release date: 
May 5, 2003
Release Number: 

Lufkin, TX -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6, headquartered in Dallas played one of the major roles in the collection of Columbia Shuttle material, responding to hazardous material reports while managing the packaging and transportation of items to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

Early in the disaster EPA's first priority was to remove shuttle material from Texas and Louisiana schools as part of the overall goal of ensuring public safety. This first goal was completed on Tuesday, Feb. 4, just four days after the craft broke-up over central Texas. EPA activated 1,900 personnel to the Columbia incident. They worked in harmony with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NASA and Incident Command System search teams to retrieve and dispose of potentially hazardous materials.

The Region 6 EPA team coordinated haz-mat response, debris recovery, and documentation of each shuttle item recovered. Early in the recovery effort, EPA provided airborne photometric collection technology and utilized a sophisticated Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer vehicle that traveled East Texas roads monitoring air for potentially hazardous chemicals.

The EPA team averaged 650 field personnel at the highest point in the disaster and had a total of 1,900 personnel involved in the incident. In addition, contractor support averaged 575 personnel from Feb. 1 to April 30.

"The EPA activities were crucial to the success of the recovery effort. Their personnel were extremely professional, knowledgeable and an essential element to the overall success of the Columbia Recovery operation," said Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells.

"Even with the recovery of nearly 40 percent of the Space Shuttle Columbia, it is likely that more material will surface over time," said Dave Whittle, Manager of NASA's Columbia Recovery Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Individuals finding additional suspected Columbia material should call the Columbia Recovery Office toll-free at 866-446-6603."

EPA personnel have recovered all reported hazardous material. After a systematic search of the primary recovery area it is believed that much of the remaining material may have been destroyed on re-entry. However, NASA and FEMA personnel request anyone coming upon what they suspect to be Columbia Shuttle material to call the NASA toll-free Hot Line at 866-446-6603.

"Ensuring public safety continues to be a prime mission of the EPA," said John Martin, EPA On Sight Manager.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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