EPA Releases Draft Plan to Accelerate Cleanup of Contaminated Industrial Sites

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The Environmental Protection Agency Dec. 9 released a draft plan to accelerate the cleanup process at sites contaminated by industrial wastes, including strategies to better assess federal sites and to better coordinate superfund cleanups and brownfields development.

The draft implementation plan, a joint effort by EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response and Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, would implement EPA's Integrated Cleanup Initiative, which aims to revise how the agency measures and reports progress at hazardous waste sites.

The three-year initiative is intended to speed up efforts to return contaminated sites to productive use while protecting health and environment by 2012. EPA said it will take comment on the draft plan for 30 days.

As one of the first steps, EPA is establishing a new cleanup benchmark called “remedial action project completions,” which address specific actions taken to implement a site cleanup, rather than a site-wide “construction complete” benchmark. Specific actions could involve discrete areas of contamination, or building demolition, or use of particular technologies such as soil vapor extraction, the agency said.

While EPA will continue to report on the completion of site-wide cleanup construction, the agency said the remedial action project completion measure will provide communities with the ability to evaluate and hold EPA accountable for ongoing progress and risk reduction.

“It will also allow EPA to focus and manage the program at a level that more closely aligns with the real work in the field and to hold ourselves accountable for this work,” EPA said.

The Integrated Cleanup Initiative was discussed in March at a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment (41 ER 547, 3/12/10).

Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, told BNA her organization is still reviewing the draft plan.

Various Strategies Outlined.

The draft plan identifies actions EPA can take to bring cleanup operations to completion using its superfund and brownfields programs, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, underground storage tank regulations, and enforcement actions. For each action, the draft plan identifies the EPA office that would take the lead and those that would provide support.

Among the strategies outlined in the draft plan is better assessment of federally owned contaminated sites. According to the draft, the government owns more than 500 sites for which disposition is unknown or unclear. Some of those sites have not received any recorded action in as long as 15 years. EPA has set up a work group to review those sites and determine which have been assessed and which have not.

To advance the cleanup process, the draft plan recommends leveraging superfund removal authority and EPA's brownfields program to bring more sites from the assessment phase to cleanup and reuse. The draft plan calls for establishing regional work groups to identify and document best practices for linking activities under the superfund and brownfields programs and share those practices with other regions.

If EPA deems it appropriate, the draft plan also recommends streamlining the Superfund National Remedy Review Board and Contaminated Sediments Technical Advisory Group processes to improve consistency nationally in remedy selection and make those remedies more cost-effective.

Various Strategies Outlined.

EPA should also do more to hold responsible parties to deadlines for negotiating settlements and cleaning up contaminated sites.

EPA has set a goal of remediating 95 percent of the 3,747 facilities it believes need corrective action by 2020.

EPA will accept comments on the draft plan until Jan. 10. Comments can be sent to Becky Brooks at brooks.becky@epa.gov or at USEPA, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. (MC 5101T) Washington, D.C. 20004.

By Andrew Childers

EPA's implementation plan for its Integrated Cleanup Initiative is available at http://www.epa.gov/oswer/integratedcleanup.htm.