Hazardous Waste Cleanup Methods
The Superfund Program was established by Congress in 1980 in response to growing public concern over the health and environmental risks posed by hazardous waste sites and other uncontrolled toxic hazards. The law is formally called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the Superfund Program in cooperation with individual states and Tribal governments. EPA is responsible for responding to chemical emergencies and investigating and cleaning up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites throughout the United States.
In the Superfund Program, EPA uses a variety of processes and technologies, alone or in combination with each other, to clean up hazardous waste sites. Some processes are designed to physically remove the contaminated material from the site or confine contaminated materials to a specific area. Other processes and technologies are designed to treat the contaminated material-to destroy or permanently change their chemical structure; to extract or separate them from the soil, sludge, sediments, or the water they are contaminating; or to immobilize them and keep them from moving or spreading beyond the site.
The responsibility for selecting the most appropriate cleanup method for a specific site rests with the EPA Remedial Project Manager (RPM) or On-Scene Coordinator (OSC), with input from the affected community. An important step in this selection process is narrowing the field of alternatives and developing a list of options that make sense for dealing with the contamination at the site.
The RPM or OSC has to examine the range of available technologies and processes and find the ones that offer the best potential for reaching the cleanup goals that have been set for the site. This involves weighing several factors-whether a technology is capable of effectively treating the contaminants present at the site, how long it will take to clean up the contamination using the technology or process, how much it will cost, how complicated or difficult it is to use, and if it is safe for both the workers at the site and the surrounding community.
Many processes and treatment technologies are available for use at hazardous waste sites, and new technologies are constantly being developed. The state-of-the-art is changing continuously. For convenience, this activity is based on current information about the most commonly used technologies at Superfund sites.
For additional information on the topics covered in this activity, see the Suggested Reading list found at the end of the Haz-Ed materials.