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Ecological Revitalization Turns Contaminated Properties into Community Assets

Calumet site before Calumet site after

Calumet Container site, Hammond, Indiana, before and after cleanup and restoration to its natural habitat.

Leadville, CO before Leadville, CO after

Leadville, CO, before and after the use of soil amendments for remediation, revitalization, and reuse.

Ecological revitalization returns polluted or otherwise disturbed lands to a functioning and sustainable use by building soil, improving habitat for plants and animals, and creating a recreational use for the community. Ecological land revitalization can be incorporated into site remediation plans for cleanup and may serve as the remediation technology when soil amendments are used to bind contaminants, build soil, and establish plant growth. EPA created EcoTools to share information on ecological revitalization, link to resources, and provide technical assistance.

Returning contaminated sites to beneficial use not only allows local communities to reclaim lost land, but it can also lead to increased property values, a higher tax base, and protected open space. In addition, when local interests have a stake in the revitalized property, the chances are greater for continued productive use. The public's interest in the renewal of natural ecosystems has grown steadily during the past few decades. EPA's Superfund Redevelopment Program assists communities in returning some of the nation's worst hazardous waste sites to safe and productive uses. While the Agency works to protect human health and the environment, EPA also works with communities and other partners to consider future uses for restored Superfund sites. Many sites are now being used as parkland, agricultural land, residences and commercial space.

Habitat preservation is key to an ecosystem's health and well-being, and there is a growing awareness that restoration is essential to recover ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed. Furthermore, contaminated or disturbed sites that have been restored are once again available for public use and enjoyment. Ecological revitalization is not unique to the Superfund program. All of EPA’s cleanup programs support and promote ecological revitalization as a component of site cleanup and reuse. To learn more about EPA’s cleanup programs in relation to ecological revitalization, check out our cross-program report entitled, “Ecological Revitalization: Turning Contaminated Properties Into Community Assets”.

There are hundreds of thousands of acres of disturbed and contaminated land across this country’s landscape due to mining and other human activities. Some of these lands are in remote locations which can pose difficulties with cleanup logistics. While others may have minimal funds for cleanup or are so large that cleanup becomes impractical. The use of soil amendments for remediation, revitalization, and reuse is a strategy proven to address these and other problems. Soil amendments are residuals such as municipal biosolids, manures, sugar beet lime, wood ash, log yard waste and a variety of composted agricultural by-products. Soil amendments can reduce toxicity by immobilizing contaminants.   They also restore the soil by balancing pH, adding organic matter, increasing moisture retention and reducing compaction thereby enabling revegetation and restoration. This technology is both environmentally- and economically-beneficial since materials destined for disposal are recycled to build soil while reclaiming an unusable or devalued land. For more information on soil amendments, check these websites: “Use of Soil Amendments for Remediation, Revitalization and Reuse” paper and a technical performance measures tool).

In addition to the more obvious benefits associated with cleaning up contaminated sites, the application of soil amendments as part of a remedial strategy also provides the soil with the organic matter it needs to store and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Soil amendments build soil organic matter and increase plant growth, both of which sequester and assimilate carbon from the atmosphere. EPA assembled a workgroup to research carbon sequestration benefits at sites that use soil amendments for remediation and reuse. The workgroup developed a protocol to measure and account for carbon on soil-amended sites. Currently, EPA is evaluating data from soil and plant samples collected from three study sites: Leadville, CO, Sharon, PA and Stafford, VA.  EPA would like to study the carbon accounting at more sites under various stressors and climatic conditions.

In the resources section of the EcoTools webpage, there are factsheets answering frequently asked questions about ecological revitalization of Superfund sites, addressing attractive nuisance issues, and discussing revegetation of landfills and waste containment areas. Achived internet seminars on ecological reuse of contaminated sites are also available.

For more information contact Michele Mahoney. 703.603.9057, mahoney.michele@epa.gov

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