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Building Consensus Through Risk Assessment and Management of the Department of Energy's Environmental Remediation Program 1 Introduction The Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for the restoration of the environment at the nation's nuclear-weapons complex. This is the largest environmental-remediation task ever to be undertaken by the federal government. DOE must characterize, treat, and dispose of hazardous and radioactive wastes that have been accumulating for over 50 years at its major facilities which encompass over 3,300 square miles in 36 states and territories. In many cases, no technology or process for total cleanup or disposal of the resulting contamination exists. Over the last 5 years, DOE was allocated over $18 billion to identify the problem, manage it, and assess the degree of remediation necessary for the various sites and facilities. No firm estimates of the cost of remediation are possible, but amounts in the hundreds of billions of dollars have been suggested. DOE officials have expressed concern that the demand for such funds will exceed the willingness of Congress to supply them. The environmental challenges at many of the DOE facilities are similar in some respects to those at nonfederal industrial sites that are contaminated with toxic wastes. But the DOE sites often differ substantially in size and in the complexity and forms of waste.
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Building Consensus Through Risk Assessment and Management of the Department of Energy's Environmental Remediation Program Remediation is complicated by the presence of radioactive wastes, chemical wastes, and a combination of the two (mixed wastes) that have entered the air, soil, surface water, benthic sediments, and groundwater. Through natural processes, contaminants have sometimes moved off site; and some continuing releases to the air and water are being recorded. DOE's remediation activities and the site-specific efforts at risk management are carried out under a regulatory system that encompasses many environmental laws and that is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (which does not regulate but conducts health assessments on request), and many state regulatory agencies. Although DOE retains oversight over its own worker health and safety programs, it has committed itself to meeting Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. Legally binding agreements between DOE, the states, and EPA—such as those required by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) —delineate the responsibilities and timetables for facility-specific remediation at most facilities. Many of the regulatory requirements entail some form of risk assessment (although the methods required vary in different cases). DOE Assistant Secretary Thomas P. Grumbly has announced a fundamental re-evaluation of the department's environmental-remediation program and Congress has also now required a similar report. Further, Mr. Grumbly intends to have risk assessments conducted at each of DOE 's weapons-complex sites. Moreover, DOE has declared that its top priorities in site remediation include control of urgent risks and protection of worker and public health. For these purposes, sites must be characterized sufficiently well for the health and environmental risks to be defined and estimated. Then exposure and other hazards to remediation workers under different remediation options can be estimated. Only then can resources, technology, time, and money be effectively targeted. DOE has also committed itself to risk-management processes that
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Building Consensus Through Risk Assessment and Management of the Department of Energy's Environmental Remediation Program have been derived in conjunction with and are acceptable to regulators and the public. As a part of its effort to improve its environmental remediation, DOE asked the National Academy of Sciences to assess whether a risk-based approach to evaluating the consequences of alternative remedial actions is feasible and desirable. The Committee to Review Risk Management in the DOE's Environmental Remediation Program was formed in the National Research Council to develop a response. The committee held a workshop on November 3-4, 1993. The participants included representatives of relevant disciplines, state agencies, Native American organizations, affected local groups, environmental groups, DOE contractors, and labor unions, all of whom offered their perspectives and opinions. The agenda and a list of workshop participants are available in Appendix A. The workshop opened on Wednesday, November 3, with an address by Assistant Secretary Grumbly outlining his view of the challenges facing DOE and his perspective of the committee's task. Beginning on Thursday morning, the committee heard presentations by 13 invited speakers. The presentations and the ensuing question-and-answer sessions were focused by pre-arrangement on sets of five questions (see Appendix A). The presenters were DOE site-management contractors and representatives of various stakeholders such as citizen groups, workers, and state and federal regulators. (See full definition of stakeholder in Appendix D) A theme of many of the morning presentations was frustration over the lack of remediation and the need for more coordination among the parties. Further inquiry into the causes of frustration, however, revealed differences among the involved parties. The DOE contractors, who expressed confidence in their ability to understand the risks associated with the sites and in the technology available for risk reduction, were frustrated largely by having insufficient authority to conduct assessments and remediations, by
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Building Consensus Through Risk Assessment and Management of the Department of Energy's Environmental Remediation Program being saddled with inflexible and sometimes conflicting regulatory requirements, and by having to deal with lack of clarity in the decision-making process and lines of authority. The representatives of the general public, workers, and the Native Americans—all of whom expressed notably low confidence in the technology and in the current understanding of the risks associated with the sites—were frustrated by their inability to participate substantively in the making of key decisions related to environmental and health monitoring, agenda-setting for risk assessment, and the choice of remedial alternatives. For them, the process by which a decision is made was as important as the decision itself, both because the process shapes the decision and because an open, inclusive process can provide stakeholders with a much fuller understanding of alternatives than can a closed hierarchical one. Furthermore, these stakeholders were fundamentally distrustful of DOE's and its contractors' ability to understand stakeholders' values and concerns and to incorporate them in decision-making. Regulators were frustrated by the constant changes in binding legal agreements with DOE necessitated by new information about the nature of facility contamination and limited budgets. The workshop also heard some encouraging reports of successful collaboration among DOE, its contractors, the public, and local, state, and federal agencies at some DOE facilities. In spite of these successes, the workshop presentations clearly showed the need for fundamental rethinking and restructuring of how sites are assessed and priorities are set and of how the stakeholders interact with each other throughout the process. Narrower changes would be merely cosmetic. The recommendations contained in this report attempt to set the needed changes in motion. A brief question-and-answer period followed each panel presentation and included questions from the television audience. (The proceedings of the workshop were broadcast live via satellite to over 300 sites and approximately 1,000 individuals at those sites.) The afternoon session of the workshop was an extended round-
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Building Consensus Through Risk Assessment and Management of the Department of Energy's Environmental Remediation Program table discussion involving the committee, the morning presenters, and 15 other invited participants. The whole group was asked to consider six questions that were intended to get to the heart of the committee 's charge (see Appendix A). The topics covered by the six questions have been used, with small changes in emphasis to reflect the insights of Assistant Secretary Grumbly, to structure this report. The committee takes its task to assess whether a risk-based approach to evaluating the consequences of alternative remedial actions is feasible and desirable and how the public credibility of the process can be improved. In his opening remarks on November 3, Assistant Secretary Grumbly stated his hope that the DOE could use risk assessment, to establish the necessary, credible, scientifically based risk assessment program to define, on a site-by-site basis in a meaningful way, the major long-term public-health and environmental risks at our sites. We'll do this in concert with our stakeholders, in concert with the public-health community, in concert with you. Why we need to do this is not just to protect public health, safety, and environment, but also to protect and use wisely the public tax dollars that we've been entrusted to manage. Before turning to those considerations, the committee offers two comments. At DOE's request, the workshop and this report were treated as matters of great urgency; no time was available to revisit important technical questions that were not resolved. Nor was it feasible to provide a self-contained history of even DOE's risk-analysis efforts, let alone the related efforts going on in other federal agencies. There is, of course, no shortage of material available on these topics, but for further information the interested reader will have to look beyond this necessarily brief report.
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Building Consensus Through Risk Assessment and Management of the Department of Energy's Environmental Remediation Program This page in the original is blank.
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