More on EPA’s New Recommendations on Sediment Cleanups

Last month, we wrote about a new memorandum from the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management that sets forth 11 recommendations for the agency’s regional offices on how to clean up contaminated sediments. Here we discuss some of those recommendations in greater detail.

The EPA’s recommendations are shown below in bold text, followed by our comments and analysis.

Recommendation 1: Consider early actions during the remedial investigation/feasibility study in site areas presenting high risks to help reduce risks quickly. Here, the EPA advises its regional offices not to wait until the sediments at a site are well characterized before taking steps to reduce serious risks. In many situations, the EPA can use its removal authority to reduce serious risks while other portions of the site are studied.

Recommendation 2: Ensure adequate data collection during the remedial investigation/feasibility study to support the evaluation of alternatives. It’s never too early to plan ahead. From the very start of the process, the focus should be on collecting data that will support an eventual evaluation of remedial alternatives. Avoid “study for study’s sake.”

Recommendation 3: Evaluate the risks associated with exposures to contaminated sediments, including submerged sediments. While the greatest risks at many sites likely involve ingestion of fish and shellfish, site managers should not ignore more direct pathways, such as direct contact via swimming or wading.

Recommendation 4: When considering the use of sediment toxicity testing, collect design-oriented ecological effects data to document a linkage between site contaminants and adverse effects. There is already plenty of information in the scientific literature about the potential ecological effects of various contaminants. Studies of sites with contaminated sediments should include site-specific sediment toxicity tests that yield data about the toxic effects of the particular sediments under consideration.

Recommendation 5: Clearly describe the risk reduction expectations by identifying the monitoring endpoints that will be used to evaluate achievement of all remedial action alternatives. In other words, be clear about exactly how cleanup alternatives will be evaluated, in quantitative terms. What can be achieved (e.g., what contaminant concentration) in what media (e.g., fish tissue) in what areas and over what timeframe? “Lower risks” or “no risk” cannot serve as useful criteria.

In our next post, we will cover the remaining six recommendations in the EPA’s January 2017 directive.

Paul M. Hauge is Counsel in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department.