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Land Risk Management Research

Featured Fact Sheet
Featured Fact Sheet

US EPA. (2011)Innovative Capping Technology to Prevent the Migration of Toxic Chemicals from Contaminated Sediments (PDF) (2 pp, 332 KB) Publication No. EPA/600/F-11/009.

Contaminated Soil and Sediments


Nearly 40 percent of rivers and streams in the United States are too polluted for fishing and swimming due to chemical and microbial contaminants. EPA researchers are working with regions and communities on soil and sediment contamination issues. To make these waterways usable again, they are using innovative sediment remediation techniques such as:

  • Dredging
  • Capping and
  • Monitored natural recovery (MNR).

EPA researchers and their partners must decide which of these options best suits a particular site, as well as develop new treatment approaches. The costs, strengths, and limitations of these approaches must be considered for a wide variety of sites. The land risk management research program is designed to provide a better understanding of the traditional risk management options for contaminated soils and sediments and to investigate alternative options.

US EPA. Yeardley, R. (2013) "Lake Hartwell: Tracking the Movement of Contaminants through Ecosystems." (EPA YouTube Video, 8:59 min) This video tells the story of a multi-year study of MNR, as a means of risk management of an ecosystem with contaminated sediments. It is also available as a free DVD

Environmental Issue or Problem

Both soils and sediments can be polluted with a host of chemical and microbial contaminants from a number of sources. Sources include:

  • Municipal wastewater (and associated biosolids),
  • Industry, and
  • Agriculture.

Chemical contaminants range from heavy metals like mercury to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to relatively new emerging contaminants. Sediments and soils may contain multiple chemical contaminants combined with microbial pathogens. Emerging contaminants of concern such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) come from

  • Municipal wastewater
  • Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and
  • Other sources.

They are deposited in soils and sediments once discharged to lakes and streams or applied to land. Of course, all of these potential contaminants raise

  • Human health issues
  • Affect ecosystems and
  • Make water bodies less usable.

All of these issues have accompanying economic costs.

Research Approach

Understanding the toxic properties of contaminants is essential to understanding the risks associated with contamination. The land research approach includes a focus on those contaminants that tend to be persistent and bioaccumulate within organisms, since they pose the most evident long-term risk. Since the risk to humans is primarily through exposure to other organisms within which contaminants may have accumulated, ecological receptors become the primary focus for the research program. Research is directed to provide the site-specific risk assessor with tools to make risk predictions based on extrapolation from an understanding of food web and bioavailability/bioaccumulation relationships, and on the impact of remediation alternatives on ecosystems. Decision makers, risk managers and decision scientists must forecast changes in the nature and extent of contamination under various management, temporal and hydrological scenarios. Soil and sediment contaminants research also seeks to characterize the fate and transport of persistent contaminants.


  • EPA:
    • Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO),
    • Office of Water (OW),
    • EPA Environmental Response Team,
    • National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL),
    • National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA),
    • National Homeland Security Research Center (NHSRC),
    • EPA Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10
  • State Agencies:
    • State Departments of Health and Environmental Protection,
    • Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC)
  • Other Federal Agencies:
    • U.S. Navy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE),
    • U.S. Marine Corps,
    • U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE),
    • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),
    • U.S. Forest Service (USFS),
    • Argonne National Laboratory,
    • U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),
    • U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Academia:
    • University of Texas,
    • University of Cincinnati,
    • University of Arizona,
    • University of Illinois-Chicago,
    • Purdue University,
    • North Carolina State University,
    • Clemson University,
    • University of Toledo,
    • Bowling Green State University,
    • Iowa State University,
    • University of South Korea
  • Business/Industry:
    • Alcoa,
    • Olin Chemical,
    • Battelle,
    • Aquablok,
    • Trojan Technologies
  • Other:
    • South/Southwest Hazardous Substance Research Center,
    • Washington DC Mayor's Initiative Team,
    • Piedmont Research Station


Projects in this area of land research include ones that deal with remediation and monitoring of soils and sediments contaminated with legacy and emerging organic and inorganic chemicals. Organic chemicals studied include::

  • PCBs,
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons.

Some are from leaking underground storage tanks).Inorganic chemicals include:

  • Mercury,
  • arsenic,
  • Chromium,
  • Zinc,
  • Selenium,
  • Manganese,
  • Silver, and
  • Lead.

Emerging contaminants studied include:

  • EDCs,
  • perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), and
  • Pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs).

EPA researchers participated in sediment dredging projects that have reduced the flow of contaminants from the Ashtabula and Ottawa rivers into Lake Erie and provided a healthier habitat for humans, fish, and other aquatic life. EPA oversaw removal of about 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Ashtabula River and 245,000 cubic yards from the Ottawa River. The sediment contained multiple contaminants, including PCBs.

EPA contributed funding through the Great Lakes Legacy Act for both of these projects, which also created jobs for the local economies and helped to restore valuable resources. Sediment capping and MNR projects have been supplying similar health, environmental, and economic benefits in place like Chattanooga Creek, Tennessee, and Lake Hartwell, South Carolina.

Selected Publications

Technical Resource Document on Monitored Natural Recovery (PDF) (251 pp, 4.61 MB) Publication No. EPA/600/R-14/083 April 2014

US EPA. Yeardley, R.B. (2013) Science in Action Factsheet: Flux Meter Assesses the Effects of Groundwater, Surface Water, and Contramined Sediment Interactions on Ecosystems (PDF) (2 pp, 743 KB) Publication No. EPA/600/F-13/130.

US EPA. Yeardley, R.B., E. Barth, and D. Timberlake. (2011) "Innovative Capping Technology to Prevent the Migration of Toxic Chemicals From Contaminated Sediments." (PDF) (2 pp, 332 KB) Publication No. EPA/600/F-11/009.

US EPA. Mills, M., J. M. Lazorchak, J. P. Schubauer-Berigan, and D. Walters. (2010) "Methods and Tools for the Evaluation of Monitored Natural Recovery of Contaminated Sediments: Lake Hartwell Case Study." (PDF) (24 pp, 2.21 MB) Publication No. EPA/600/R-10/006.

Barth, E., G. Weinkam, and P. Clark. (2010) “Evaluation of In Situ Steam Injection Processes for Reduction of Petroleum Compounds Within an Abandoned Canal.” Remediation, 20, 3: 121–132.

US EPA. Lien, B.K. and C.G. Enfield. (2010) "Automated Long-Term Remote Monitoring of Sediment-Water Interfacial Flux." (PDF) (132 pp, 1.87 MB) Publication No. EPA/600/R-10/110.

US EPA. (2007) "Demonstration of the AquaBlok Sediment Capping Technology, Innovative Technology Evaluation Report." (PDF) (145 pp, 3 MB) Publication No. EPA/540/R-07/008.

US EPA. (2006) "Evaluation of Sediment Agitation and Mixing Into the Surrounding Water Column From Capping Activities at the Wyckoff/Eagle Harbor Superfund Site." (PDF) (185 pp, 14 MB) Publication No. EPA/540/R-05/013.


Dennis Timberlake, Branch Chief
Phone: 513-569-7547
Email: timberlake.dennia@epa.gov
U.S. EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Land Remediation and Pollution Control Division
Soils and Sediments Management Branch
26 West. Martin Luther King Drive.
Mail Code: 190
Cincinnati, OH 45268

Risk Mangement Research | Air and Climate Change Research | Water Research | Ecosystems Restoration Research | Land Risk Management Research | Technology: Sustainable Technologies Research, Environmental Technology Verification Program (ETV), and Technology Assessments

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