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March/April 2010
Feature

Making Cleaner Greener

A Proposed Standard for Green and Sustainable Site Remediation

Responding to requests to minimize greenhouse gases and resource use during site cleanup, ASTM International Committee E50 on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management and Corrective Action is developing a proposed standard guide.

Green remediation shouldn’t be an oxymoron. When it comes to handling contaminated sites, from a small area with soil contamination to a huge location with widespread soil and groundwater pollution, the goal is to protect human health and the environment. But the solution — usually either to clean up or contain — can often involve equipment and processes that generate greenhouse gases, use natural resources and impact the surrounding area and its inhabitants.

Proposed standard WK23495, Guide for Green and Sustainable Site Assessment and Cleanup, is an effort to help the regulated community meet environmental requirements in greener, more sustainable ways that balance the social, environmental and economic aspects of a cleanup operation. The work is spearheaded by a task group on green and sustainable corrective action within Subcommittee E50.04 on Corrective Action, a part of ASTM International Committee E50 on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management and Corrective Action.

A Greener Standard

The effort to develop a new standard was launched in spring 2009 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requested a guide incorporating best management practices that minimize energy and water usage, the consumption of materials that emit greenhouse gases, waste generation and impacts on water resources, land and ecosystems.

“In my 17 years with ASTM, I’ve never seen such huge demand for a standard,” says Helen Waldorf, who works with the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, helping public facilities reduce their environmental impact and meet environmental regulatory requirements. “State and federal agencies, private industries, consultants and people who live in affected communities want green and sustainable cleanup operations.”

Waldorf is the chairman of the responsible E50.04 task group, which is composed of representatives from the EPA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Sustainable Remediation Forum, state and local governments, and oil companies, among others. As of December 2009, the group had a rough draft of a proposed standard guide.

“The intent of this ASTM task group is to create a standard that allows smarter decision-making by regulators and the regulated community, and that helps nongovernmental organizations, nonprofits and community members become more involved in the process so that community needs can be met whenever feasible,” says Carol Baker, an environmental toxicologist with Chevron in Richmond, Calif. Baker, who joined ASTM International when she heard about the proposed standard, now serves as team leader for four sections of the document.

Three-Tiered Decision Process

In addition to sections covering planning and scoping requirements for green and sustainable corrective actions, as well as elements that characterize greener, more sustainable approaches to remediation, the proposed standard includes a scalable, three-tiered decision process similar to ASTM’s risk-based corrective action guides.

“We’re really encouraging incremental steps in making cleanup greener and more sustainable,” says Lesley Hay Wilson, who leads the team developing the decision process. She’s based in Austin, Texas, and co-owns Sage Risk Solutions LLC, an environmental risk management and decision-support firm.

The three-tiered process consists of a matrix where users can choose from screening, qualitative and quantitative evaluations, or tiers, and environmental, societal and economic categories. “The process helps people work through the kinds of decisions that have to be made prior to cleanup, investing the money, time, interest and expertise that’s available and appropriate to them,” explains Waldorf. “It also gives them a standard way of doing the analysis and of demonstrating just how they did it and getting credit for that.”

For example, suppose a cleanup requires excavation or treatment of soil as well as treatment of groundwater. A Tier I analysis could ensure that the excavators and trucks removing soil use low sulfur fuel to reduce emissions and that they travel through the surrounding neighborhood at times acceptable to residents. A Tier II alternative might result in selecting a closed-loop groundwater treatment system that neither generates air emissions nor requires soil removal. A Tier II approach could also include planting trees to minimize aesthetic issues related to the remediation system. Tier III might involve working with a neighborhood group to train under-employed residents to assist with the remediation work.

Additionally, a section in the proposed standard describes processes for monitoring, tracking and documentation. Baker notes, “Suppose a remediation action isn’t working out as expected. Those responsible and/or affected can obtain data and discuss modifications with regulators to increase the benefits associated with the remediation.”

Finally, the proposed standard will include appendices with examples of the decision-making process, information about off-the-shelf technologies for green cleanup and references. It will also include information from state programs that regulators — or any concerned parties — need to know about green and sustainable processes. “We’re working closely with the EPA, Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council, and other groups to make sure that everything comes together and that we embrace not just the environmental but the sustainable social and economic aspects of remediation,” says Baker.

Next Steps

ASTM International Committee E50 next meets April 19-22 in St. Louis, Mo., during the April committee week. The task group will review and edit the first draft of the proposed standard before sending it out for its first subcommittee ballot.

“We’re still early in the process and we want to make this standard guide as helpful as possible, so we welcome ideas and suggestions,” says Hay Wilson. The task group is especially seeking input on the social aspects, particularly from a quantitative perspective, that should be evaluated in a tiered decision process.

Meanwhile, Waldorf is hopeful that WK23495 will become an ASTM standard. “In the court of public opinion, cleaning up sites is a top priority. People want green and sustainable actions by federal, state, local and private concerns, with money wisely spent for a sustainable future.”

 

Adele Bassett is a Malvern, Pa.-based freelance writer who has covered everything from youth gangs in Colorado to earthquakes in Connecticut while working for a variety of corporations and publications. She holds a B.A. in English, an M.S. in journalism and an M.B.A.