Geoffrey Fettus, senior project attorney for the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, discussed sustainability considerations for ongoing remediation at Department of Energy (DOE) sites. Mr. Fettus expressed the concern that sustainable remediation may be used as a justification for not cleaning up a site to the fullest extent. He provided brief historical context leading to his concerns. Congress enacted the Atomic Energy Act (1946) to protect the public and to encourage the development of the atomic energy industry. The act also established a program to encourage widespread participation in the development and utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public. Waste and environmental impacts were neither components of nor considered under this early regulation.
The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 split off the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from the Atomic Energy Commission, which became the Energy Research and Development Administration and eventually DOE. The Energy Reorganization Act also assigned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the authority for radiation standards. Mr. Fettus stated that the 1970s saw the development of the Independent Review Group (IRG), which was an effort to develop a coherent national nuclear waste disposal policy. The IRG consisted of 14 federal agencies and other key stakeholders. It evaluated possible disposal options and locations for U.S. nuclear waste repositories. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 directed DOE to develop a repository, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license the repository, and EPA to set the environmental protection
standards for which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would license the repository. Cleanup efforts through the 1990s and 2000s, he noted, experienced cost estimates rising to the hundreds of billions of dollars and contentious disagreements with states over cleanup goals, end states, and long-term stewardship.
Mr. Fettus commented that the challenge of cleaning up sites such as Hanford or the Savannah River Site is enormous and understandably will cost millions of dollars; however, positive lessons can inform future actions. The Rocky Flats (see Chapters 1 and 3) and Fernald, Ohio, sites (see Chapter 1) are useful examples of compromise over endpoints between stakeholders and the public. Unique to the Rocky Flats site, stated Mr. Fettus, was the State of Colorado’s desire for DOE to finish the site and cease its presence in the state, which has not been true of other states in which DOE sites have been located. The budget for cleanup will remain a key element for successful programs moving forward. Having a stable cleanup budget will allow DOE to complete ongoing cleanup and to maintain current infrastructure.
Mr. Fettus stated that DOE is largely self-regulating and that the Atomic Energy Act should be amended to end environmental exemptions for DOE so that EPA and state regulatory agencies have the authority to impose compliance with standards. Needed are baseline statutory and regulatory requirements for cleanup projects so that all agencies and stakeholders involved know the endpoint. Many of the disagreements among the stakeholders and agencies, he stated, are due to the lack of ability to set clear and binding statutory and regulatory requirements. Once clear, enforceable cleanup standards are in place for the dozens of remaining DOE contaminated sites, more holistic approaches to sustainable remediation decision making can be implemented without risk of the process being abused to justify cost savings and less cleanup.
4.1 SUSTAINABILITY FRAMEWORKS AND CASE STUDIES
Buddy Bealer with the Sustainable Remediation Initiative (SRI) presented frameworks for sustainable remediation. SRI is a collaboration of organizations—such as the Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF), Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC), and American Petroleum Institute (API)—that seeks to promote the understanding and implementation of sustainable remediation. He stated that when considering sustainable remediation, it is important to remember that sustainable practices are dependent on many circumstances, such as site conditions. Mr. Bealer gave an example of how water use in Pennsylvania would be considered sustainable under a given context, but the same situation in California under a water shortage would quickly be considered non-sustainable. The
same situation results in a different impact, based on conditions at different locations, so evaluation of sustainable remediation practices depends on place-based consideration.
Similarly, when ITRC was developing the framework for green and sustainable remediation, it realized that the sustainability of a given remediation technology depends on specific site conditions. Often in subsurface remediation, such as when groundwater is pumped up and treated, an initial mass of contaminant is removed, but with time the concentration that is pumped up diminishes, resulting in concentrations levels approaching an asymptote with time. Ongoing treatment results in higher costs but lower treatment efficacy (Figure 4-1).
Such a scenario often raises the question of when it is appropriate to stop treatment, especially if regulatory levels have not yet been attained. If there is no receptor or risk to human health or the environment from the contaminant, for example, then should indefinite costs and efforts be required to further treat a contaminant, especially if that contaminant would naturally decompose in place? When addressing this type of issue, many
FIGURE 4-1 In a remediation scheme, contaminant levels in the subsurface do not decrease over time as much as during previous pumping, resulting in concentration levels approaching an asymptote. Continual pumping results in increasing costs for a project.
SOURCE: Bealer 2013.
environmental, social, and economic considerations must be considered, as well as the many trade-offs among these. Needed is a framework that can be applied to many projects to help sift through these important issues. Three current frameworks try to accomplish this sifting: SURF’s Framework for Integrating Sustainability into Remediation Projects; ITRC’s Technical and Regulatory Guidance Document, Green and Sustainable Remediation: A Practical Framework (GSR-2); and ASTM’s Green Remediation Guide (WK35161) and Standard Guide for Integrating Sustainable Objectives into Cleanup (E2876-13).
Mr. Bealer explained the common elements to all these frameworks are complementary to each other:
- Stakeholders and decision makers are important, and it is necessary to engage and communicate with them throughout the process.
- Processes should be in place to filter options that the responsible party, decision makers, and other stakeholders can agree on.
- The project status should be clearly defined, possibly by using a conceptual model that includes all the elements of sustainability. This allows all parties to clearly understand and agree on the scope and extent of a project.
- An evaluation process to assess the available remedial options is needed. There should be clear project goals, metrics, and tools to assess the project’s progress toward completion.
Mr. Bealer stated that sustainable remediation is not new and is a formalized and systematic process of remediation strategies. Frameworks assist project managers to be more systematic when incorporating sustainability principles into a project.
Nicholas Garson, president of SURF also discussed the incorporation of sustainability into remediation approaches. SURF is a nonprofit collaboration with a mission to maximize the overall environmental, societal, and economic benefits from the site cleanup process by advancing the science and application of sustainable remediation, developing best practices, exchanging professional knowledge, and providing education and outreach. Mr. Garson stated that sustainable remediation focuses on the triple bottom line—environmental, economic, and social benefits.
Environmental footprint reduction includes efforts such as reducing the amount of resources used on a project, reducing air pollution generated by treatment systems, reducing energy usage, considering alternative energy sources for a treatment system, using the waste from another industry in a treatment system, and finding an alternative use for the waste generated from a remediation project. Economic benefits include realizing savings when employing a remedy, such as finding a beneficial reuse for waste
“The overall value proposition is that using sustainability as a framework for remediation projects helps reduce long-term liabilities and costs. For projects under this framework, it is often found that investing more money upfront for a cleanup project is a better option than extending expenditures over a long period of time.”
Nicholas Garson, October 31, 2013
products. Often a reduction in an environmental footprint reduces overall costs, said Mr. Garson. Societal considerations include transparent communication with the public and stakeholders. Safety is also a consideration when maximizing societal benefits, especially with staff involved on large excavation projects or the general public located near a project with heavy truck traffic. The overall value proposition is that using sustainability as a framework for remediation projects helps to reduce long-term liabilities and costs. For projects under this framework, it is often found that investing more money up front for a cleanup project is a better option than extending expenditures over a long period of time.
Mr. Garson discussed some of the challenges to implementing sustainable remediation. Currently the practice of sustainable remediation is more qualitative than quantitative; however, metrics and tools are continually being developed to better quantify and assess the benefits of sustainable remediation. There have also been challenges to employing sustainable remediation because organizations lack the regulatory infrastructure to support it. There is a need for more case studies to illustrate successful sustainable remediation projects, Mr. Garson said. It is important to convey to the public, stakeholders, and regulators that sustainable remediation is not about doing less comprehensive cleanup.
Mr. Garson presented case studies of successful sustainable remediation projects. The first case study involved a site at a former manufacturing facility at the King County Airport in Seattle. The challenge was to clean up trichloroethylene (TCE) and other chlorinated solvents in groundwater in a way that would have the lowest footprint in terms of material use, energy use, and disruption to an active facility. Part of the sustainable remedy came from an unlikely source. A beverage distribution facility in Seattle disposed of whole pallets of damaged soda bottles and cans in landfills. The remediation team realized that the sugar in the soda would serve as an excellent substrate for bacteria that would break down the chlorinated solvents. In this bioremediation strategy, soda from the rejected pallets was injected into the groundwater, and bacteria broke down the sugar into byproducts that served as substrates for other bacteria that were able to degrade the
chlorinated solvents. This example demonstrates the environmental, social, and economic benefits of using a waste product acquired for free from one industry, keeping it out of landfills, and using it instead to clean up contamination to meet remediation objectives.
The second case study involved a chemical recycling facility in Kansas City that was contaminated with chlorinated solvents and metals. The project management team engaged the public and stakeholders to develop a plan for a green space restored with native grasses as the end state for the site. Several practices were put in place to complete the remediation strategy in a sustainable manner: idling was not allowed for heavy equipment, contaminated groundwater was treated on site and reused, environmentally preferred materials were used for part of the on-site construction, and the grass mix planted required minimal mowing to limit future impacts from maintenance.
The third case study involved a site in Seattle that had polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in storm water from legacy contamination in the on-site storm drains. EPA’s Region 10 office provided the project management team with sustainable remediation guidelines. The guidelines, all of which were met, included the following:
- Energy conservation efficiency through 100 percent use of green power, met by purchasing 100 percent renewable energy.
- Cleaner fuels, diesel emissions controls and retrofits, and emission reduction strategies, met by adding to contractor specifications.
- Water conservation and efficiency approaches, met by filtering storm water used for backflushing; no supplemental water was needed.
- Sustainable site design, met by allowing for future reductions of electrical power requirements.
- Industrial material reuse or recycling within regulatory requirements, met by reusing steel enclosures, piping, and equipment designed for 20 years.
- Recycling of materials generated at or removed from the site, met by recycling asphalt, excavating soil reused for backfill, and using offsite soil disposal via rail.
- Environmentally preferable purchasing, met by using post-consumer recycled paper and iron materials made from recycled metal.
- Greenhouse gas emission reduction technologies, met by adding to contractor specifications for heavy equipment.
This case study demonstrated the ability to incorporate sustainability principles into EPA cleanup processes, which allowed for the site to be remediated in a timely and cost-effective way.
4.2 OTHER AGENCIES’ PERSPECTIVES ON INCORPORATING SUSTAINABILITY INTO SITE REMEDIATION
Walter Mugdan, director of the Emergency and Remedial Response Division in EPA Region 2, discussed cleanup efforts in New York State. A sustainable remedy in the context of EPA Superfund cleanup efforts generally refers to green remediation within a selection of remedies based upon the nine CERCLA criteria, Mr. Mugdan explained. Also considered are the long-term viability, reliability, and protectiveness of a remedy, which relate to the social, economic, and environmental pillars of sustainability.
Mr. Mugdan provided two examples of how sustainability considerations are incorporated into Superfund cleanup sites. The first example was the Gowanus Canal, a 1.8-mile-long waterway in Brooklyn, New York, that has had three manufactured gas plant sites along its banks since the 1860s. The highest levels of contamination along the canal outside of the manufactured gas plant site locations are found to be in the percent range of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The canal is also contaminated to a lesser extent with PCBs and heavy metals. In addition, the canal receives sewage solids from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) from the city. Older cities have combined storm water and sewer pipes that overflow into local waterways when runoff exceeds the capacity of storm water channels during heavy rain.
Although historically industrial, the area surrounding the canal is now high-end residential neighborhoods. With years of sediment loading, the canal is only 100 feet wide and about 10 feet deep at high tide. The canal is poorly flushed, with little tidal difference across its length, resulting in heavy flows of raw sewage during heavy rain fall. The site was added to the Superfund list in 2010, and a plan was issued in December 2012. After a 4-month public comment period, EPA had the largest administrative record in Region 2’s history (all the comments and responses take up 310 three-ring binders). The Record of Decision (ROD) was issued in September 2013 to dredge 600,000 cubic yards of soft sediment and to stabilize and cap the underlying native sediments, which are contaminated to a depth of about 100 feet. The ROD also requires that retention tanks be installed to prevent CSOs from spilling raw sewage into the canal. The total budget was approximately $500 million, and the project has an expected timeframe of 8 to 10 years.
Mr. Mugdan listed the sustainability considerations for the Gowanus Canal cleanup as they relate to the social, economic, and environmental pillars. Social considerations include a high degree of local interest and support, a very informed and engaged public, the largest Community Advisory Group (CAG) in the nation with approximately 60 members, and overwhelming public support for cleanup, particularly for CSOs. Economic considerations include high expenses for potential responsible parties (PRPs),
estimated at $506 million, including $78 million for CSOs; the National Grid’s (public utility) responsibility for remediation of three sites adjacent to the canal with a possible cost of approximately $500 million; a real estate boom with a 52 percent property value increase from 2008-2012; and local job creation. Environmental considerations include capping soft sediments in the canal after dredging, despite concerns about the long-term reliability of such a cap. Additionally, New York City asserts that the CSOs have background levels of contaminants that need not be addressed by the Superfund program. These discharges, however, carry contaminants that can be two to three times higher than background levels.
Mr. Mugdan also discussed the Hudson River site, which runs 40 miles up the river from Albany to the location of two General Electric facilities that dumped polychlorinated biphenyls into the river. This site is one of the largest Superfund remedial projects under way. Approximately 500 acres of the upper Hudson will be dredged, removing 2.5 million cubic yards of sediment at an estimated total cost of $2 billion. The sediments will be dewatered after removal and disposed of in permitted landfills. The water will be treated to lower than maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), and a habitat layer will be backfilled and tens of thousands of plants re-established. After fighting it for 20 years, General Electric has finally accepted the plan and has been moving forward with the cleanup very well, said Mr. Mugdan.
As of September 2013, more than 1.9 million cubic yards have been dredged (>71 percent of expected total), and there is lower than expected re-suspension of sediments with virtually no exceedance of standards. Mr. Mugdan explained the social, economic, and environmental sustainability considerations for the Hudson River cleanup. The social considerations include initial opposition from local governments and residents, which have all but disappeared since cleanup started. From an economic standpoint, the cleanup is very expensive for General Electric (approximately $2 billion over 10 years), but it has added 500 jobs to the local economy. Finally, there are environmental concerns about the long-term maintenance of sediment caps; however, the caps remained unaffected after a 100-year flood event in 2011.
Maureen Sullivan, director of environmental management in the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense discussed DOD’s efforts to incorporate sustainability into cleanup activities. DOD modified the definition of sustainability in Executive Order 13514 to better align with its mission, Ms. Sullivan said. DOD’s vision of sustainability is to maintain the ability to operate into the future without decline either in mission or in the natural or manmade systems that support operation. This definition aligns more directly with DOD’s mission. Sustainability is often defined as a three-legged stool—one leg for social,
one for environmental, and one for economic considerations. The DOD, however, substitutes its mission for the social leg of the sustainability stool.
DOD has approximately 38,000 sites and invests up to $2 billion a year in cleanup activities. Currently, 76 percent of those sites are considered response complete because there is an ROD and the cleanup goals of that ROD have been met. Those sites will continue to be monitored before being considered closed. The remaining sites comprise a liability for the DOD of $28 billion, second only to military benefits. Cleanup sites are segmented into three major categories. First are sites on active installations that have a mission to perform. Second are bases that were closed under the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), so there is currently no mission. The third category consists of former defense sites, that is, bases that were closed prior to 1986 and no longer belong to DOD. They might be owned by private landholders, state governments, local governments, or other federal agencies. Those sites that DOD is cleaning up that are listed as Superfund sites on the National Priority List are subject to an interagency agreement with EPA, which is the co-lead on the sites. DOD works directly with the states on the remaining sites.
DOD has stated a goal that 90 percent of the sites will be response complete by 2018 and 95 percent of the sites will be response complete by 2021. The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program is reviewing the remaining sites to develop an approach to addressing the contamination at those locations. DOD does not apply sustainability to the cleanup program as a formal process, but it does implement green remediation strategies when possible. The Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod, for example, has a wind turbine that provides the energy to run the cleanup activities at that site. The closest example of DOD efforts to address a site’s sustainability, Ms. Sullivan stated, can be found in the BRAC sites, where DOD is collaborating with local economic development groups to redevelop those communities.
One challenge to incorporating sustainability into site cleanup is that the DOD process and its interaction with regulators are very regimented and have been established for decades, said Ms. Sullivan. The DOD is very averse to changing the process. Other challenges arise from a multitude of definitions and misconceptions around sustainability and its application to a cleanup process. Regulators have been willing to work with DOD program managers as they try new and different technologies, but the program managers need to have certainty that innovative decisions and actions will be supported by the regulators. That support will help with the risk-averse nature of the agency. Funding will also be an important consideration moving forward, said Ms. Sullivan. The ultimate acceptance of a paradigm shift will occur when sustainable solutions are funded, which will send a strong signal of culture change.