National Academy of Sciences Report Recommends Groundwater Cleanup Changes

Cost to complete U.S. hazardous wastes sites cleanup expected to reach $110 to $127 billion

The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), released a report, "Alternatives for Managing the Nation’s Complex Contaminated Groundwater Sites," recommending significant changes to the current approaches for remediating complex groundwater cleanup sites.

The NAS report examines the important technological, organizational and regulatory complexities facing the responsible federal agencies, regulators and the private sector potentially responsible parties, particularly at the sites that have contamination remaining in place at levels above those allowing for unlimited use and unrestricted exposure.  

The Report:

  • •Concludes that when the effectiveness of site remediation reaches a point of diminishing returns (i.e., low benefit, high costs) prior to reaching cleanup goals, the site should be transitioned to MNA (or some other passive management) or other long-term management, using a formal evaluation.
  • •Describes the state of development in using sustainable factors—not just “green” environmental factors, but social and economic factors—in hazardous waste remedy selection
  • •Recommends increasing the role of risk assessment in the remedy selection process, the use of greater flexibility in remedy selection (e.g., taking into account that risk reduces as the remedy is implemented), and a careful consideration of the potential risk from vapor intrusion at all sites.
  • •Concludes that public involvement should be improved in remedy selection, during five-year reviews, and during the proposed transition assessment.
  • •Concludes that EPA’s technical guidance for five-year reviews should be updated to provide a uniform protocol for analyzing the data collected during the reviews and reporting their results.
  • •Describes the current effectiveness of remediation technologies and recommends additional research on promising technologies.
  • •Describes generally the implications of leaving contamination in place and recommends the creation of national databases on institutional controls to track the effectiveness of long-term management.
  • •Concludes that responsible parties will need to fund the long-term management at complex sites.

The nation’s hazardous waste remediation programs are transitioning from problem identification and remedy selection to remedy implementation and long-term management for at least the most challenging 12,000 or more complex groundwater contamination sites. This report is the first NAS report to assess what long-term management steps need to be utilized.

National Academy of Sciences

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