U-M Washington Update features Dr. Rosina Bierbaum

Originally published: 
December, 2016

Government Relations
University of Michigan
Week of November 28 – December 2, 2016

From Washington Update: 

This week, we are featuring Dr. Rosina Bierbaum, a Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy in the School for Environment and Sustainability (SNRE), and the School of Public Health. Before becoming Dean of SNRE in 2001, Rosina served in both the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government, including as the Acting Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Because of her long service in Government, President Schlissel asked Rosina to co-chair his National Service and Policy Engagement Committee along with Alec Gallimore.

Dr. Bierbaum serves on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). PCAST is an advisory group of 19 leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President. PCAST makes policy recommendations in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming sound public policy.
Through her work on PCAST, Dr. Bierbaum has contributed to a multitude of PCAST documents and reports. This week, an executive summary of the latest report was released: Report on Science and Technology to Ensure the Safety of the Nation’s Drinking Water. Dr. Bierbaum co-chaired the working group that wrote the report, in response to President Obama’s concerns about the safety of our Nation’s drinking water, underscored by the discovery of lead in the tap water in Flint.  
Dr. Bierbaum also co-chaired the Report on Private Sector Efforts in Adaptation to Climate Change 2015. This report identified ways the Administration can assist the private sector in preparing for and adapting to near- and long-term impacts of climate change

Drinking water in the United States is safe and of high quality most of the time in most places, but public confidence regarding drinking-water quality has been shaken recently by a series of high-visibility crises.  These events highlight the long-term, national challenges to maintaining high-quality drinking water, resulting particularly from continuing and legacy pollution of source waters and an aging infrastructure that is in need of significant repair and modernization.

As part of the Administration’s response to concerns about the safety of the Nation’s drinking water, underscored by the revelations about lead in tap water in Flint, Michigan, in March 2016, President Obama asked his President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to investigate how science and technology (S&T) could more effectively help ensure the safety of the Nation’s drinking water. 

On November 30th, PCAST released the recommendations and executive summary of its study, which we co-chaired, at the same time as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Drinking Water Action Plan. The complete PCAST report to the President, Science and Technology to Ensure the Safety of the Nation’s Drinking Water, is being released today.

PCAST is making the following near- and long-term recommendations, which we believe will help to further improve the safety of the Nation’s drinking-water system.  The near-term recommendations focus on activities that the Administration can undertake in the areas of:

  • monitoring for chemical and microbial contaminants including a focus on monitoring exposure in particularly vulnerable populations such as babies and children;
  • developing strategies for improved data sharing and accessibility;
  • expanding citizen-science projects on drinking water; and
  • growing and training the water-system workforce. 

PCAST has categorized these recommendations as “near-term” because either personnel, funding, or programs currently exist that can help jump start the implementation of these recommendations within the current Administration.

PCAST is also making long-term recommendations to support a Federal strategy that coordinates research and the application of S&T to help ensure that the Nation’s drinking water will always be safe. These long-term recommendations include:

  • improving quantitative assessments of comparative risk across contaminants;
  • developing and deploying innovative, next-generation water technologies; and
  • launching demonstration pilots in U.S. cities to assess how innovative technologies perform in realistic conditions. 

PCAST considers these “long-term” strategic recommendations visionary, requiring dedicated resources. 

The release of this report could not come at a more important time.  This month Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act, authorizing funding for Flint and other communities to respond to lead problems.  The legislation provides access to $100 million in funding to help fix Flint's drinking-water infrastructure, $200 million in low-interest loans to upgrade water infrastructure in communities in Michigan and across the Nation, $50 million to address the health-care needs of children who have been exposed to lead, and authorizes the State of Michigan to forgive $20 million in past drinking-water loans to Flint.

Together, Federal, State, and local governments; universities; the private sector; and individual citizens can help ensure the ongoing safety of the drinking-water system.

Rosina Bierbaum, PhD and Christine Cassel, MD are PCAST members and the co-chairs of the PCAST working group on S&T for safe drinking water.

Dr. Bierbaum has made contributions to all reports, but was most involved with:

  • Letter Report on Climate Change (2013)
  • Report on the Intersection of the Nation’s Ecosystems and the Economy
  • Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society and the Economy
  • Letter Report on Hearing Technologies
  • Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
  • Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing
  • Technology and the Future of Cities

To learn more about Dr. Bierbaum’s background and research, please click here.