Site Owners Can Save — and Make — Money with ‘Greener’ Superfund Cleanups
Superfund cleanups provide environmental and health benefits to the area and people living and working near the site. These “green” cleanup activities also translate to economic benefits for site owners and the surrounding businesses — good news considering the EPA wants to add more than a dozen sites to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List.
Last week the agency said it is adding 10 and proposing to add eight hazardous waste sites to Superfund list. These sites have contamination from a variety of sources, including manufacturing, mining, battery recycling and dry cleaning.
“The sites on the [National Priorities List] pose the highest risk to the environment and public health,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, in a statement. “By cleaning up these sites, not only are we benefitting the health of our people and our ecosystems, in many cases, we are benefitting local economies. Many Superfund sites can be safely redeveloped, providing communities with new revenue streams.”
When the EPA cleans up a site or a portion of a site, it frequently returns to beneficial uses. More than 850 Superfund sites nationwide have some type of actual or planned reuse underway.
For example, the Coalinga Asbestos Mine in Coalinga, California, is home to 33 businesses that employ more than 450 people, providing annual employment income of about $16.3 million. Two new residential developments are also located there, providing housing in a rapidly growing community.
Cleanups also increase tax revenue and create jobs during and after cleanup. The EPA reviewed 454 Superfund sites supporting use or reuse activities. It found at the end of fiscal year 2015 that these sites had about 3,900 businesses with 108,000 employees and annual sales of more than $29 billion.
Similarly, a study on property values close to brownfield sites in Youngstown, Ohio, found that cleaning up the contaminated resulted in an increase in the selling price of nearby properties by 18 percent over a five-year period. The study also found that the property values adjacent to brownfield sites that had not been remediated were 66 percent lower than properties one mile away.
Last month the EPA issued guidance on Consideration of Greener Cleanup Activities in the Superfund Cleanup Process. It followed an updated version of ASTM International’s Standard Guide for Greener Cleanups, which the EPA helped develop. The standard reflects EPA’s Greener Cleanup Principles, including the goal of minimizing water use and impacts to water resources, and the agency encourages its use at cleanup sites.
In a recent blog, the EPA’s Deborah Goldblum, who spearheaded the effort that led to ASTM International’s Standard Guide for Greener Cleanups, asks readers to imagine a contaminated site where best practices have been implemented.
“Rainwater is captured on-site and used for dust control,” she writes. “Equipment is cleaned using phosphate-free detergents to protect the nearby stream. Native plants are used in site restoration to provide habitat and protect waterways. Porous pavement is used to reduce runoff from the site.”
The ASTM standard can help cleanup professionals implement these and other best-practices to reduce the environmental impact of remediation efforts.
But what does this mean for site owners themselves? In a separate blog, CH2M site remediation and revitalization global practice director Paul Favara explains what site owners need to know about the new EPA guidance on greener cleanup.
Favara told Environmental Leader that these greener remediation activities — such as using energy-efficient equipment and construction techniques and sustainable materials, and generating renewable energy onsite — make business sense.
“There are clear environmental and financial benefits to implementing greener practices at site cleanups,” Favara said. “These include reduced project remediation costs and liabilities, faster cleanups and better environmental stewardship.”
He said CH2M, which has a methodology for implementing all of the elements of the EPA’s guidance, starts by using best management practices to identify opportunities to reduce the overall environmental footprint.
This “has a direct correlation to lower site costs and reaching a positive endpoint sooner,” Favara said. “We apply Footprint Analysis and Life Cycle Assessment tools to determine which/how technologies can be implemented in a more sustainable manner.”
Costs associated with green remediation activities are usually minimal and almost always have a high return on investment Favara said. Plus, reducing the project’s environmental footprint cuts labor, material, transportation, energy, natural resources, and water costs associated with the cleanup.
“One example of this is the insitu solar powered biogeochemical reactor (iSBGR),” Favara said. “CH2M has implemented 15 iSBGR’s to date on a range of client remediation projects and locations. These green reactors utilize locally available fermentable carbon sources — for example bark mulch, waste vegetable oil — and materials along with renewable energy for groundwater recirculation to reduce contaminant concentrations in groundwater to regulatory cleanup levels. This technology has a significantly lower environmental footprint, a lower cost of implementation and ongoing operations, as compared to traditional treatment technologies, and achieves site cleanup objectives in a shorter time period.”
And faster, cheaper cleanups that are better for the environment is a win for everyone involved.
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