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