TESTIMONY OF NORINE E. NOONAN, PH.D.
NORINE E. NOONAN, PH.D.
OFFICE OF RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
October 21, 1999
Thank you Mr. Chairman for providing this opportunity to address the Subcommittee today concerning the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) research, development, and demonstration activities under Superfund. My testimony will highlight some of our important achievements in reducing the uncertainties and costs associated with site remediation, as well as identify the problem areas whose solution will continue to require research into the future.
EPA has maintained a comprehensive site remediation research program since the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted in 1980. In Fiscal Year 1999, program funding was $39.8 million, including approximately 125 scientists, engineers, and support staff.
EPA's Superfund Research Program is an applied research program that strives to improve site characterization and risk assessment methods and develop and evaluate cost-effective remediation technologies. It is guided by our peer reviewed Waste Research Strategy that was published in February, 1999. We communicate the results of our research widely to assure that it is available to decision-makers, while also providing direct technical support to site decision-makers to aid in solving problems at the more complex sites. I will briefly describe each of these activities and provide examples of the significant impact that our research has produced.
SITE CHARACTERIZATION RESEARCH
Site characterization is an important part of our Superfund research program. The objective of EPA's site characterization research is to: 1) develop simpler, faster, and more cost-effective site characterization procedures and technologies, and 2) develop improved exposure models. An example of important progress in this area is the field-portable instruments, which we have developed to allow us to characterize the physical/chemical environment and analyze samples right at the site that reduce analysis time from days or weeks to hours. In addition, we have developed improved sampling procedures and designs which allow site managers to collect preliminary data, model these data, and then determine where additional characterization data are needed, all in a matter of hours. The result is a more accurate and rapid characterization of a site which lowers costs and improves site remediation decisions.
A good example of the benefits of our research on improved sampling design is the pilot study conducted at the Piazza Road NPL site in Missouri, a site contaminated with chlorinated dioxins. The study developed detailed statistical information on the spatial variability of dioxin at the site. These data were used to evaluate alternatives to perform a more localized, cheaper removal of the contaminated soils. Even though the final sampling and analysis costs were $600K higher than those planned initially by the site manager, the reduction in remediation costs resulted in a net savings of nearly $6 million.
Our research program has also made significant improvements in our ability to realistically determine the potential for human and ecological exposure to site contaminants. Through improvements in our understanding of how contaminants are transported in the environment we have been able to develop realistic exposure models.
RISK ASSESSMENT RESEARCH
Risk assessments are a critical component of remediation decision-making. They are one of the principal tools used to determine the level of cleanup that will be required, as well as the risks associated with the cleanup activities. Therefore, it is essential that they are reasonable and consistent. Risk assessments that are tailored to site specific conditions help the Agency answer the questions of: who is at risk, what is the extent of the risk, and what contaminants and activities pose the greatest risks to those exposed. The objectives of EPA's risk assessment research activities are to:1. develop methodologies to facilitate site specific estimates of risk;
2. develop better risk assessment tools and databases for private sector, government, and community risk assessors, and
3. provide site-specific technical assistance to risk assessors.
The goal of EPA's risk assessment methods research is to develop better data, methods, and models. For example, we have improved understanding of the health and ecological effects of ubiquitous and highly toxic contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, lead and solvents, and have worked to replace linear dose-response models with more plausible biologically-based models where appropriate. Both of these advances will reduce uncertainties in Superfund site risk assessments.
A good illustration of the benefits of risk assessment research is the development of appropriate methods for determining and applying site-specific bioavailability factors. At the Bingham Creek site in Salt Lake City, a site-specific bioavailability study was conducted at the cost of about $100K. The results suggested that the normal default assumption of 30% bioavailability of contaminant from the soil could be replaced with a site-specific factor of 19%. Use of this factor reduced cleanup costs by 50%, saving $4 million without reducing protection of public health.
ORD's risk assessment research program has also developed better tools and databases to facilitate stakeholder involvement in community-based risk assessments. For example, ORD developed an Exposure Factors Handbook which provides a summary and evaluation of the key assumptions and factors used in risk assessments, such as soil ingestion, dermal adsorption, and food consumption factors. We also developed an ecotoxicology database (ECOTOX), which is used by EPA Regional and Program Office staff and other Federal, State, and regulatory scientists undertaking ecological risk assessments.
SITE REMEDIATION RESEARCH
From the beginning, a key issue for the Superfund Program has been the availability, performance, and cost of remediation methods. Until the mid-1980s there were only a few conventional technologies available for site remediation, such as incineration or solidification of contaminated soils and pump-and-treat methods for groundwater remediation. These approaches were often high-cost or their effectiveness was difficult to predict.
Over the past ten years, ORD has significantly reduced the uncertainty and cost associated with site remediation by evaluating, developing, and demonstrating a wide variety of innovative remediation technologies. As a result of these research efforts and a variety of EPA cleanup policy initiatives, over 50% of the treatment technologies being selected for site cleanup today are approaches that were not commonly in use ten years ago.
In FY99, remediation technology research represented slightly over 50% of our Superfund Research Program. It is divided into two components: the Superfund Innovative Technology Evaluation Program (SITE), and research to develop remediation technologies for contaminated soils and groundwater.
SITE Program - The SITE Program was developed in response to the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), which directed EPA to establish a demonstration program for innovative site characterization, monitoring, and remediation technologies. The objective of the SITE Program is to increase the use of commercially-developed technologies by producing credible performance data on full-scale technologies applied in real world situations. Most site owners or decision-makers are unwilling to take the risk of using an innovative technology without the benefit of objective performance information at commercial scale.
In this program, technology developers are responsible for deployment and operation of their technology at a contaminated site, while EPA is responsible for evaluating technology performance, assuring data quality and objectivity, and publishing the test results. The resulting reports can be used by vendors to add credibility in promoting their processes, and by site owners or government decision-makers to select remediation options.
The benefits of SITE have been substantial. To date we have evaluated 142 innovative remediation and site characterization technologies, one quarter of which were at Federal facilities. A recent assessment conducted of cleanup decisions at 46 sites that employed the remediation technologies demonstrated in the SITE Program between 1993 and 1995 showed a total discounted cost savings of $780 million, compared to the conventional technologies that were being considered for those sites. This represents an average savings of $17 million per site, a 70% savings from the cost of the conventional technology. For comparison, the total discounted SITE program budget from 1986-1996 was $100 million.
Soil and Groundwater Remediation Technology - Groundwater provides a significant risk pathway at many Superfund sites. Contaminated soils, which often co-exist at sites where groundwater is contaminated, also represent a significant risk pathway because of the potential for human ingestion and skin contact, as well as exposure to wildlife.
ORD's groundwater remediation research has focused on understanding the behavior of contaminants in the subsurface and developing processes to more cost-effectively destroy them or extract them from the environment. ORD researchers were among the first to recognize that subsurface pools of undissolved contaminants (non-aqueous phase liquids or NAPLs) were one of the principal reasons for the failure of some early attempts to clean up contaminated groundwater.
ORD researchers have conducted field tests on several innovative technologies that are among the first subsurface treatment alternatives to pump-and-treat. For instance, we recently completed a side-by-side comparison of nine enhanced removal technologies to clean up residual NAPLs that are acting as sources of contamination at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. We learned that subsurface flushing of mixtures of alcohol solvents and surfactants could extract 80% to 90% of the contaminants at rates 100 to 10,000 times faster than pump-and-treat systems. Research is underway to verify that the contaminants left behind can be destroyed by natural chemical and biological processes.
Another major success of our research has been the development and demonstration of a technology for subsurface treatment of contaminated groundwater. The technology, called a permeable reactive barrier (PRB), involves placing a subsurface zone of sand and iron filings in the path of flowing groundwater. Contaminants react with the iron and are converted to a non-hazardous or immobile form and treated groundwater is allowed to continue on.
A field-scale PRB evaluation was conducted at the U.S. Coast Guard base in North Carolina where groundwater had been contaminated with chlorinated solvents and chromium. The process was so effective that the Coast Guard is designing the full-scale remediation for the base using a PRB at a cost savings of more than $3 million compared to the conventional pump-and-treat technology planned previously. Given the large number of sites in the U.S. where similar applications are possible, the total cost savings are estimated to potentially range in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars nationally.
EPA is also one of the pioneers in bioventing technology, an in-place remediation process that delivers oxygen to the subsurface to support microorganisms that degrade contaminants in soils. EPA conducted the first field studies of injection bioventing, in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force, demonstrating its effectiveness on soils contaminated by fuel spills. For some sites, bioventing can be significantly cheaper than conventional technologies. As a result, this technology has been selected for use at over 1,000 contaminated sites in the U.S..
Technical Support - EPA has nationally-recognized scientists and engineers engaged in developing the innovative techniques and technologies described above. One way we assure that this expertise and our research advances are directly utilized in site remediation is through a technical support program in which technical experts are available to EPA's Regional Offices to provide site-specific assistance. In-house technical support centers have been established for; monitoring and site characterization, remediation engineering, groundwater, subsurface modeling, exposure assessment modeling, environmental photographic interpretation, and risk assessment. Annually, technical support is provided to over 200 NPL sites, typically those that represent the most complex and difficult sites to remediate.
The benefits of a strong Federal technical support program are numerous. By serving as the technical consultants to EPA's Remedial Project Managers (RPMs) and On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs) we have helped to promote consistency in remediation decisions nationally, and we have helped to improve the timeliness, technical quality, and cost-effectiveness of those decisions. These technology transfer activities help to encourage cost-effective application of traditional and emerging technologies by both public and private sector decision-makers.
Our objective of assisting in selecting better, faster, and less costly remedies has been met in a number of remarkable cases. At a wood preserver site in Louisiana, we conducted fast-tracked technology evaluations leading to accelerated selection of a remediation option. This cut months off the cleanup schedule. Thorough data analysis and interpretation of groundwater contamination at a site in California provided the technical basis to halt plans for a $25 million water treatment system without risk to drinking water quality. Modeling of contaminant transport at a site in New York showed that the cheaper treatment process was equally effective, saving $2 million.
Partnerships - EPA has worked hard to develop partnerships with a broad range of Federal, industrial, and academic institutions to leverage expertise and resources in remediation science and technology. One example is the private sector Remedial Technologies Development Forum with whom EPA and the DOE and DOD have collaborated to develop innovative "in place" bioremediation methods. We also collaborate extensively with DOD through the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and jointly demonstrate technologies via the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP). A unique controlled spill research facility is being constructed in Nevada in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the DOE.
Collaboration has increased in recent years with the basic research program of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and with health science and technical assistance programs at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). EPA scientists and engineers serve on the Science Advisory Boards of the Superfund University Hazardous Substances Research Centers (HSRCs) authorized under Section 311 of SARA and have also developed cooperative research projects with HSRC scientists.
FY2000 Research Focus - While much progress has been made improving Superfund remediation, many technical issues remain. For example, significant uncertainty remains in the area of monitoring and remediating non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLs), especially in complex hydrogeologic formations.
Site characterization research must continue to strive to develop less expensive and more rapid techniques. We will continue to expand the applicability of on-site field analytical technologies to a broader range of contaminant types. Also, the development of a new generation of geophysical technologies based on 3-D data acquisition and analysis will be developed to allow site managers to more accurately and quickly determine the location of subsurface contaminants such as NAPLs. In the future, our site characterization research will continue to pursue innovative site characterization methods, especially the use of biosensors and immunochemistry techniques that have the potential for rapid and sensitive detection of specific contaminants such as phenols and chlorinated organics.
Remediation technology research must continue to place emphasis on the development and evaluation of effective "in place" treatment technologies (such as PRBs) for contaminated soils and groundwater. These approaches promise to significantly reduce cleanup costs if their performance can be verified and methods developed to reliably predict performance in field situations. This information continues to be a critical factor in technology acceptance and use by public and private sector decision-makers.
In conclusion, we take pride in the accomplishments of our Superfund Research Program. We have helped to reduce the uncertainties in determining the public health and ecological risks associated with contaminated sites. We have contributed to insuring that more cost-effective site characterization and remediation technologies are available in the market place and are being used in practice. We are disseminating our knowledge to the numerous public and private stakeholders in Superfund. Important problems remain that must be addressed by continuing remediation research into the foreseeable future. EPA and its partners have developed a unique and highly skilled scientific and engineering capability to effectively solve these problems cost-effectively. I thank you again for the opportunity to address this Subcommittee, and I am happy to answer any questions that you may have.