Environmental Engineering & Assessment

Most environmental problems have complex solutions. Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) applies an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to solving those problems. SwRI provides to government and industry clients a responsive team of environmental engineers, scientists, and modelers, working with state-of-the-art instrumentation and test facilities.

The Institute offers a complete spectrum of proven and innovative environmental engineering and assessment capabilities. SwRI engineers and scientists determine comprehensive and cost-effective solutions to the complex, multimedia, environmental issues.

Specific areas of environmental service include:

  • Environmental assessment and site characterization
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Environmental analysis and modeling
  • Pollution prevention and control
  • Treatment and remediation technology
  • Special technologies and support capabilities

Working with your staff, the Institute will develop a comprehensive approach to manage environmental concerns to help solve today's problems, assist in regulatory issues, and position you to meet future requirements.

Environmental Assessment and Site Characterization

For more than 30 years, Institute staff members have provided a wide range of environmental assessments and site characterizations. These characterizations include regulatory analyses, health-based studies, plant operations, assessment of health and safety hazards, and management and implementation of field and laboratory operations.

  • Site characterization
    • Onsite sampling and analysis
    • Environmental audits
    • Geophysical investigative techniques
    • Geological and hydrological evaluations
    • Radiological surveys
    • Environmental impact statements
  • Regulatory analysis
    • Permitting
    • Compliance review and audit
    • Emission inventories
  • Health-based assessments
    • Occupational and nonoccupational exposure
    • Health risk
  • Hazard assessment
    • Risk and performance assessment technologies
    • Geochemical and hydrological modeling
    • Vapor-dispersion modeling

Real-time collection and integrated processing of magnetometer readings and spatial location data obtained from a Global Positioning System (GPS) allow scientists to identify and precisely map the location and dimension of buried metallic objects, such as drums and pipelines.



(Inset) Institute scientists have developed a method of sampling a fraction of the pesticide residues found on an applicator's hands. The method minimizes intrusion upon other elements related to human exposure such as the ability of pesticides to be absorbed through the skin and subsequently detected in biomarker measurements.

An SwRI scientist monitors the exposure a subject receives from spraying a pesticide. People can be exposed to herbicides and pesticides through mixing or applying common household chemicals used to control weeds and insects.



SwRI engineers developed a probabilistic performance assessment software program for calculating radiation dose from a high-level radioactive waste repository.



SwRI engineers designed an ambient air sampling system to collect samples of solid sorbent media used to characterize airborne concentrations of volatile organic compounds. The sampler is used to characterize ambient air at chemical agent demilitarization sites across the United States.


Environmental Monitoring

SwRI scientists and engineers provide environmental monitoring services to assess pollution from industry and other sources. Monitoring is performed for a variety of media from point and area discharges. The Institute offers a broad range of monitoring services, including:

  • Monitoring methods development
    • Low method detection limits
    • Diverse environmental analyses
  • Identification and signature characterization studies
  • Instrumentation for upper atmospheric measurements
  • Health and safety monitoring
    • Personal sampling devices for monitoring
    • Worker exposure evaluations
  • Chemical agents and explosives demilitarization process monitoring
  • Raman spectroscopy capabilities
  • Electrochemical sensors

The Institute field-tests stationary and mobile engines for emissions characterization and compliance. SwRI's mobile laboratory can be outfitted to sample and rapidly analyze a variety of regulated as well as unregulated emissions. A mobile laboratory for environmental sampling is also available for rapid turnaround response.



SwRI scientists perform onsite monitoring for fugitive emissions that may impact air quality.



The Institute monitors the air in various locations on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific, Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, and Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility for the safety of workers involved in chemical munitions destruction. The JACADS chemical agent disposal plant is shown.

In conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Agricultural Health Study, SwRI has designed methods and conducted sampling and analysis of various matrices to estimate dermal-inhalation exposures of farmers.



The SwRI-developed heat stress monitor allows viewing of environmental data in real-time for monitoring purposes. The cylindrical sensor module can easily be interchanged with other sensor modules for measuring additional environmental parameters.



SwRI conducts a full spectrum of workplace and ambient exposure monitoring. Here, a technician is monitored for hydrocarbon exposure during refueling.


Environmental Analysis and Modeling

SwRI provides comprehensive environmental analyses of air, soil, water, biota wastes, and other substances. Institute scientists also develop innovative analytical methods and preparation techniques to provide technologically advanced solutions to uncommon analytical challenges. SwRI maintains state-of-the-art facilities and laboratories to perform a wide range of analyses, including:

  • Chemical laboratories
    • Organic analyses (volatiles and semivolatiles)
    • Inorganic analyses (metals and conventional chemistry)
    • Pesticide analyses
    • Hydrocarbon analyses
    • Radiochemistry
    • Molecular characterization (nuclear magnetic resonance)
    • Dioxin/Furan analyses
    • Geophysical testing
  • RDTE III chemical warfare agent surety facility
  • Mobile analytical laboratories
  • Biological laboratories -- Working closely with its sister organization, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, the Institute has access to multiple biological laboratories, including a Level 4 Biosafety Laboratory
  • Computer simulation of multicomponent, multiphase flow in porous media

SwRI staff use an atmospheric generator (at right) to validate monitoring methods and test instrumentation for the detection of chemical agents. The generator simulates wide ranges of environmental conditions of temperature and humidity, including those encountered at chemical demilitarization sites.



The SwRI-developed MULTIFLO computer program simulates the subsurface movement of gas- and liquid-phase contaminants under nonisothermal conditions. The code also accounts for chemical reactions among the contaminants and the subsurface medium.



Institute scientists developed a unique clean-up process that allows the detection of a number of environmental pollutants at levels 10 to 20 times lower than other analytical laboratories, even from difficult matrices such as oils and tissue samples.


Pollution Prevention and Control

Pollution prevention, waste minimization practices, and process control technologies comprise the cornerstones of regulatory compliance. Experienced staff members perform process assessments to identify inefficiencies, improve control technologies, and recommend methods for source reduction, recycling, and reuse.

  • Process and procedure audits
  • Process emissions control evaluations
  • Control technology efficiency
  • Emissions characterization
  • Process recovery, recycling, and reuse evaluation
  • Engine emissions control
  • Alternative fuel and lubricant evaluation
  • Particulate and gaseous emission characterization
  • Clean-burning engine development
  • Permeation test facilities with various sizes of chambers up to full scale
  • Condition-based maintenance sensors and evaluation
  • Environmentally friendly coating development
  • Environmentally friendly depainting procedures

Environmental regulations in the coatings industries require lower emission of volatile organic compound and hazardous air pollutants in aircraft coatings removal and application processes. Institute staff can provide pollution prevention and control strategies for coating and coating removal operations.



SwRI-developed corrosion sensors help identify coating failures. Condition-based sensors help minimize unnecessary coating removal, which generates harmful pollutants such as hexavalent chromium. Institute engineers have developed a number of sensors to monitor corrosion under coatings, localized corrosion, and coating deterioration.


Treatment and Remediation Technology

Institute scientists and engineers develop technologies to treat hazardous wastes and remediate sites contaminated by toxic materials. Innovative approaches and solutions are obtained through applied engineering research, pilot-scale treatability studies, and complex computer modeling and simulation.

  • Destruction of waste materials
    • In-plant process modifications
    • Supercritical water oxidation for total destruction
    • High-pressure hydrogenation for reclamation
  • Engineering waste and cleanup services
    • Process flow diagram analysis
    • Pilot plant trials of process modifications
    • Computer process modeling
    • Solvent cleanup and recovery
  • Site remediation
    • Modeling of subsurface conditions
    • Remediation design
    • Microencapsulated oxidizers for chlorinated organic removal

Industrial biochemical laboratories extensively use solvents that eventually must be treated as hazardous waste. SwRI engineers assisted a client in developing an innovative process using continuous, high-resolution distillation and several purifying steps to reclaim the solvents.



An SwRI scientist uses a chemical reactor designed and fabricated to determine gas phase decomposition products during the treatment of explosives and chemical agents.



Site hydrologic modeling can be coupled to a Geographic Information System to understand the location of contaminants, the extent of contamination, and effectiveness of monitoring and mitigation methods.


Special Techniques and Support Capabilities

In response to client needs, SwRI has developed a broad range of special environmental technologies and support capabilities. The Institute provides innovative solutions in chemical demilitarization, fuels processing, and electronic evaluations.

  • Chemical demilitarization technologies
    • Design and implementation of air monitoring networks
    • Conventional destruction techniques
    • Design and testing of alternative destruction technologies
    • Monitoring method validation
    • Method modification for hazardous atmosphere applications
  • Batch reactions
    • Wastewater evaluations
    • Sour water treatments
    • Fuel processing for reduced emissions
  • Fuel technologies
    • Development and use of fuel components for reduced emissions
    • Design of fuel blends to meet specifications and regulations
    • Identification and assessment
    • Pilot-plant distillation, hydrogenation, reforming, and hydrocracking
  • Environmental testing of electronics

SwRI performs various industry tests within its Network Equipment/Building Systems (NEBS) environmental chamber. This facility replicates real-life environmental conditions to determine weathering of substances and effects on substrates and curing of coatings.



The Surety Facility is an RDTE Category III-approved laboratory for handling and analyzing various grades of chemical agents, including neat agents and their decomposition products.


This brochure was published in February 2003. For more information about environmental engineering and assessment, contact Dr. Michael MacNaughton, vice president, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division, Phone (210) 522-5162, Fax (210) 522-3649, or Dr. Wesley C. Patrick, vice president, Geosciences & Engineering, Phone (210) 522-5158, Fax (210) 522-5155, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510.

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