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Lack of Guidance, Metrics, Incentives Impede Environmental Cleanup

remediationAimed at site owners, remediation businesses and other industry services providers, the Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF) has released a white paper that delivers an independent assessment of sustainable remediation, which the forum defines as a movement to encourage environmental cleanups that minimize carbon emissions, conserve fossil fuels and remove potentially dangerous contaminants from soil and water.

The group of senior environmental scientists, regulators and engineers meets regularly to advance sustainable cleanup practices and to develop a vision, tools and metrics for greater sustainability. The white paper, Sustainable Remediation White Paper — Integrating Sustainable Principles, Practices, and Metrics Into Remediation Projects, offers businesses a collaborative effort to find better ways of restoring contaminated sites.

The paper cites several barriers preventing the implementation of sustainable remediation including a lack regulatory guidance, insufficiently defined frameworks and metrics, and few financial or other incentives. In addition, regulators do not require the incorporation of sustainability into remediation assessments, according to the paper.

SURF’s sustainable approach to remediation covers the following strategies:

  • Minimize or eliminate energy consumption or the consumption of other natural resources
  • Reduce or eliminate releases to the environment, especially to the air
  • Harness or mimic a natural process
  • Result in the reuse or recycling of land or otherwise undesirable materials
  • Encourage the use of remedial technologies that permanently destroy contaminants

Large environmental cleanups often come with a hidden cost: the environmental impact of the cleanup itself, and eliminating contamination and preparing affected land for reuse requires substantial energy, water and other natural resources, according to SURF. It also may involve excavation and disposal of polluted soil and groundwater, installation and operation of large pumps, treatment vessels and other equipment, and possible discharge of carcinogens, greenhouse gases and other harmful materials into the environment, said the forum.

Former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman stated it’s crucial that environmental cleanups burn less fuel, emit less greenhouse gas while still protecting human health and the environment.

Technological advances now make it possible to reduce the unwanted effects of remediation, reduce energy consumption and still provide long-term protection of people and the environment, according to the paper. As a result, state and federal agencies are starting to assess and apply sustainable remediation in their regulatory programs, said SURF.

The white paper also describes current progress toward an industry-wide consensus on sustainability concepts and practices; discusses the developments needed to overcome existing obstacles to adoption of green remediation strategies, and offers case studies showing sustainable approaches in practice.

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