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Laboratory Services and Field Operations

EPA maintains two radiological centers of excellence that provide the monitoring, assessment, radioanalytical, and other services needed during a radiological emergency:

Staff from the centers join staff from EPA's headquarters and ten regional offices to form the Radiological Emergency Response Team (RERT). This team is trained and equipped to respond to nuclear emergencies anywhere in the world.

A mobile radioanalytical laboratory maintained and available for deployment. Mobile radio analytical services include gamma spectroscopy, alpha and beta analysis, and liquid scintillation analysis. In addition, both centers maintain communications and other support vehicles. These vehicles are equipped to support command and control activities, and distribute supplies and equipment. Local very high frequency (VHF) and long-distance communication capabilities help them keep in touch with response personnel from other agencies.

Update on Mobile Environmental Radiation Laboratory (MERL) Program: EPA is continuing the MERL program with a single mobile laboratory because we have determined that the needs of the program will be met by one MERL and that this is the best use of our resources. By relocating the Las Vegas MERL to our radiochemistry analytical lab in Montgomery, AL, we can better support the mobile lab’s analytic functions by drawing directly upon the strong and specialized analytical staff found at our fixed laboratory. While not a first response asset, the MERL will be available to support incidents anywhere in the country.  For more information please see the Office Director's memo regarding the MERL program decision (PDF) (2 pg, 602 Kb, About PDF) and associated MERL Questions and Answers (PDF) (2 pg, 84KB, About PDF).

National Analytical Radiation Environmental Lab (NAREL)

NAREL is EPA's laboratory for analyzing radiation. Each year, the laboratory performs more than 12,000 analyses on samples to identify a number of radionuclides and hazardous materials. Typical samples include air, water, soil, vegetation, human tissue and food. NAREL routinely provides analytical and technical support for the characterization and cleanup of Superfund and federal facility sites.

NAREL staff are highly trained professionals with backgrounds that include health physics, radiochemistry, engineering, biology, mathematics and computer science. Fundamental to the NAREL mission is the commitment to developing and applying the most advanced methods for measuring environmental radioactivity and evaluating its risk to the public.

NAREL also operates RadNet. The nationwide RadNet system monitors the nation's air, precipitation and drinking water to track radiation in the environment. Over time, RadNet sample testing and monitoring results show the fluctuations in normal background levels of environmental radiation. The RadNet system will also detect higher than normal radiation levels during a radiological incident.

While RadNet's historical data have been used to establish normal background radiation levels, the RadNet system has also tracked airborne radioactivity from incidents such as the releases from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power plants. Learn about RadNet's historical radiological event monitoring. If necessary, the RadNet sampling frequency can be increased to meet the needs of any radiological emergency response. The RadNet system also contains 40 portable monitors that can be deployed anywhere in the United States as needed.

You can learn more at the National Analytical Radiation Environmental Laboratory website.

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National Center for Radiation Field Operations (NCRFO)

NCRFO coordinates preparedness planning activities for EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Teams to ensure that its field capabilities (staff and equipment) are ready to respond to the scene of radiation emergencies anywhere in the United States. It manages all of ORIA's field resources, such as on-site monitoring and communications equipment. NCRFO works with the Office of Emergency Management, Regional emergency response programs and the Agency's other Special Teams. NCRFO staff assesses sites contaminated with radioactive material and provides site-specific computer modeling and dose assessments.

The National Center provides training on radiological emergency response field operations to EPA staff, states, tribes, local organizations and other federal agencies. In addition, it assists tribes in developing and maintaining environmental expertise through the Tribal Air Monitoring Support (TAMS) Center.

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