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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey 6 Conclusions Effective policies for hazardous materials management must consider the development of new methods for the disposal of hazardous materials that avoid unacceptable levels of contamination, as well as methods for dealing with existing contaminated waters, sediments, and soils that have resulted from past inadequate water disposal practices. The USGS, as the agency with primary responsibilities for assessing the nation's land and water resources, has an important role to play in the overall solution to problems associated with the disposal of hazardous wastes. But no single agency, including the USGS, can be charged with answering all of these questions. What is needed is an imegrated, cooperative research effort by several agencies and institutions with relevant roles in the area of hazardous materials management. In considering directions that the various programs within the USGS could follow to resolve important problems in hazardous materials science and technology, this study reached several conclusions and presents a set of recommendations to the USGS. These recommendations can be interpreted as broad guidelines for implementing a plan to maximize the effectiveness of USGS work on hazardous materials. OVERALL PROGRAM FRAMEWORK USGS programs should be responsive to national priorities for addressing problems in the area of hazardous waste. In planning these pro-
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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey grams, careful attention needs to be given to select critical problems for study, and to appreciate the shift in emphasis in the hydrogeological sciences toward applied problems of a generic nature. Further, there must be a diversification in scientific personnel that includes theorists, computer modelers, and laboratory experimentalists in addition to a field-oriented work force. The USGS should develop a risk-based approach for setting research priorities within the hazardous materials programs. It is important that the agency focus its resources for research on hazardous materials in the hydrologic environment on those issues that have the greatest potential to reduce risks to both public health and natural resources. By no means straightforward, the approach must make full use of decision-support tools as well as the professional judgement of scientists and decision makers from within and outside the agency. Documents such as Science and Judgement in Risk Assessment (National Research Council, 1994d) can provide conceptual guidance that should be of general value in developing the approach. The USGS recently adopted a new strategic planning process into which this risk-based approach can be incorporated explicitly and applied consistently. This process should be useful in ensuring that actions throughout the agency conform with agency priorities set over the coming years. USGS COLLABORATION WITH OTHER AGENCIES The USGS programs in hazardous materials science and technology are very diverse and are carried out within an organizational structure that has evolved over time in response to national problems (Appendix A). The USGS has produced solid scientific results under this structure, and thus there appears to be no reason to undertake significant reorganization. During the course of this study, many instances of cooperation were evident within the WRD (between scientists in the district offices and scientists in the NRP), within the USGS (between scientists in WRD and scientists in the Geological Division), and among federal agencies (among scientists in the USGS and scientists in other agencies and institutions). In the future, cooperation will become ever more important because it will be needed to address interdisciplinary problems and because
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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey there are likely to be fewer federal resources available to address these issues. The USGS should strive to improve program integration and coordination both within the USGS itself and with other agencies. In addition, other federal agencies often act as "consumers" of USGS research. Satisfying the needs of these agencies is likely to assume increased importance in the future, as the USGS takes on a new role of assessing the efficacy of remediation schemes and methods in relation to hydrogeological settings. Providing leadership in the assessment of long-term results of environmental remediation and the development of modern methods for waste disposal is a role that appears to be particularly fitting for attention by the USGS. SOME CRITICAL ISSUES The USGS has been very effective at characterizing natural processes that control the transport, and to some extent the fate, of hazardous materials released to the environment. The long-term, field-based, mass transport studies of environmental contaminants have been a successful part of USGS research. This type of work should be continued, but expansions into critical areas are essential. First, the USGS should move aggressively to expand the application of their broad-based expertise in characterizing natural processes to include the evaluation of the effectiveness of remediation techniques. Most remediation systems are evaluated only over relatively short periods of time. The USGS should lead the effort to perform the long-term assessments that are essential to both technology refinement and for informed policy decisions. For example, the USGS should undertake work to assess the long-term performance of ground water remediation schemes, the side effects of remediation, and optimal monitoring strategies in various hydrogeological settings. Other critical areas in which the USGS should consider focusing attention include the issue of translocation of contaminated sediments and soils due to extreme events (floods) and, in the area of computer modeling, the refinement of flow visualization techniques and muiticomponent and compositional hydrogeochemical modeling. The USGS also must maintain its strong tradition of interdisciplinary studies. It is critical that the organization provide an integrated
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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey effort in which physical, chemical, and biological scientists fully cooperate toward mutual goals. EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES The USGS has provided substantial benefits to students through a variety of informal mechanisms and should strive to increase cooperative activities with universities. Evidence for USGS impact on graduate education includes publications stemming from work in the programs related to hazardous materials that are co-authored by students from a number of universities. Not only has the USGS contributed to the education of professionals who will help solve environmental problems now and in the future, but it has in turn benefitted by association of USGS scientists with other capable scientists at universities and elsewhere. When appropriate, such cooperative arrangements should be encouraged. For example, a professor from a university with strong programs in contaminant hydrology might be “traded” for a USGS scientist for a year. Specific problems could be addressed by graduate and undergraduate students with full or partial USGS funding. The existing relationship between USGS and land-grant universities through the state water resources research institutes provides one mechanism for implementing increased cooperation. ISSUES IN PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION This report identifies issues that should be addressed in the context of future planning and implementation of research programs. As an institutional imperative, the USGS must look outward to develop research activities that are relevant to national needs, such as the cleanup of industrial and defense related industries. Thus, it is recommended that the USGS make even greater efforts to communicate and explain results of research on hazardous materials to interested parties, including personnel from other agencies, regulators, industrial workers, and conconcerned citizens. Several approaches might be considered by the USGS to achieve this improvement. There may be opportunities for better part-
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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey nerships with industries, other agencies, and universities in the future. Care should be taken to maintain long-term follow through with regulators and other stakeholders after a project has been completed. USGS staff will need to communicate better the value of their programs to a non-scientific audience, including Congress, and may need to receive training on how to make effective presentations to lay audiences. The USGS should develop decision-support systems to assess hazardous-materials problems, to assist in the design of remediation programs, and to develop national policies to prevent problems in the future. USGS work in this area should be coordinated carefully with other agencies, for example the Agricultural Research Service, where decision-support systems for nonpoint pollution from agriculture are being developed. In respect to research, general priorities should be set with input from other agencies (DOD, DOE, EPA, and appropriate state agencies, for example), scientists with backgrounds in environmental risk assessment, and appropriate non-governmental organizations. Once the priorities are set and a strategic plan is developed, the plan should be submitted to an external scientific panel and reviewed for scientific quality. This type of peer review is needed as part of the process to ensure success of research in the hazardous materials area. The recommendation for peer review at this level is the primary recommendation of this report with regard to the charge to advise on methods for planning for success. The “standard” peer-review measure of success—the review of articles prepared for publication—will serve the purpose of evaluating the success of the USGS programs in hazardous materials science and technology, but only if the strategic direction of the program is focused at the outset on the most important problems for the nation. Continued external peer review of USGS priorities, plans, and strategies related to hazardous materials in the hydrogeologic environment is essential.
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