Waste Site Cleanup & Reuse in New England
Short-term cleanups can correct many hazardous waste problems and eliminate most threats to human health and the environment. Some sites, however, require lengthier cleanups. These may include restoring groundwater and taking measures to protect wetlands, estuaries, and other ecological resources. These sites are often caused by years of pollution and may take several years, even decades, to clean. At any point during the long-term cleanup process, interim short-term cleanups may be conducted. To locate long-term cleanups in New England, see the Find New England Sites area of this Web site.
Steps in the long-term cleanup process include:
- Identify those responsible for pollution (begin Enforcement Process)
- If appropriate, include the site on the National Priorities List
- Study type and extent of contamination and evaluate cleanup options (Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study)
- Propose a cleanup plan and respond to public comments
- Choose cleanup plan (Record of Decision)
- Develop engineering designs for cleanup (Remedial Design)
- Cleanup the site (Remedial Action)
- Maintain and monitor the site (Operations and Maintenance)
Identify Those Responsible For Pollution (Begin Enforcement Process)
Throughout the cleanup process, EPA works to identify companies or individuals who may have caused or contributed to the pollution at the site. These companies and individuals are known as Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs). After completing a search to identify PRPs, EPA's first choice is for the PRPs to pay for and/or conduct the necessary studies and cleanup activities under the supervision of EPA. If the PRPs are unable or unwilling to do the work, EPA will fund the cleanup through the Superfund. EPA and the Department of Justice will then take appropriate enforcement actions to recover all the government's costs for cleaning up the site.
For further information on EPA's Superfund Enforcement Program, contact either the EPA New England Superfund Legal Office, or refer to EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Superfund (CERCLA) Enforcement Web site.
If Appropriate, Include the Site On the National Priorities List
In most cases, sites that are candidates for long-term cleanup become listed on the National Priorities List (NPL). To evaluate the dangers posed by hazardous waste sites, EPA has developed a scoring system called the Hazard Ranking System (HRS). EPA uses the information collected during the assessment phase of the process to score sites according to the danger they may pose to public health and the environment. Sites that score high enough on the Hazard Ranking System are eligible for the National Priorities List. A site may also be proposed for the National Priorities List if the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) finds that it poses a significant risk to public health or if the site is chosen as a state's top priority site. The proposal is published in the Federal Register and the public has an opportunity to comment in writing on whether the site should be included on the National Priorities List. Fact Sheets are available on the Web for all New England sites listed on the NPL.
Study Type and Extent of Contamination and Evaluate Cleanup Options (Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study)
A detailed study of the site is done to identify the cause and extent of contamination at the site, the possible threats to the environment and the people nearby, and options for cleaning up the site.
Propose a Cleanup Plan and Respond To Public Comments
EPA uses information from the EPA Remedial Investigaton/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) to develop and present a proposed plan for long-term cleanup to citizens, and to local and state officials for comment. The proposed plan describes the various cleanup options under consideration and identifies the option EPA prefers. The community has at least 30 days to comment on the proposed plan. EPA may also invite community members to a public meeting to express their views and discuss the plan with EPA (and sometimes state) officials.
Choose Cleanup Plan (Record of Decision)
Once the public's concerns are addressed, EPA publishes a Record of Decision, which describes how the Agency plans to clean up the site. EPA will also notify the community of the cleanup decision.
Develop Engineering Designs For Cleanup (Remedial Design)
Next, the cleanup method is designed to address the unique conditions at the site where it will be used. This is called the Remedial Design. The design and actual cleanup is conducted by EPA, the state, or by the parties responsible for the contamination at the site. EPA closely oversees this design phase of the cleanup at the site. When the design is completed, EPA informs the community of the design and the next steps that will take place at the site.
Cleanup the Site (Remedial Action)
The cleanup process itself involves the removal, treatment, and/or disposal of contaminants at a site, and then the restoration of the site to a condition that is not dangerous to people or the environment. This step may involve different cleanup methods, such as the construction of a plant to treat contaminated groundwater, or the excavation and treatment of contaminated soil. Visit the Behind the Scenes area of this Web site to read real stories about the cleanup process in action.
Maintain and Monitor the Site (Operations and Maintenance)
EPA can put in place equipment and manpower necessary to clean up a site, but it may take a long time to return a site to the way it was before it was contaminated (as in the case of long-term treatment of contaminated groundwater). Some sites, due to the extent of contamination, will never return to the way they were prior to the pollution; however, EPA will make sure that the site will be safe for the people living around the site now and in the future. EPA regularly monitors sites to make sure they remain safe. If there is any indication that a problem has arisen, immediate action will be taken to make the site safe again. NPL sites that meet all federal cleanup standards are deleted from the National Priorities List.