Recent national awareness of the economic infeasibility of remediating hazardous waste sites to background levels has sparked increased interest in the role of science policy in the environmental risk assessment and risk management process. As individual states develop guidelines for addressing environmental risks at hazardous waste sites, the role of science policy decisions and uncertainty must be carefully evaluated to achieve long-term environmental goals and solutions that are economically feasible and optimally beneficial to all stakeholders. Amendment to Oregon Revised Statute 465.315 (1995; Oregon House Bill 3352) establishes policy and Utah Cleanup Action and Risk-Based Closure Standards (R315-101) sets requirements for risk-based cleanup and closure at sites where remediation or removal of hazardous constituents to background levels will not be achieved. This paper discusses the difficulties in effectively integrating potential current and future impacts on human health and the environment, technical feasibility, economic considerations, and political realities into environmental policy and standards, using these references as models.
Substantive revision of policy and processes requires the managing of science policy to prevent layering of biased assumptions within the risk assessment and risk management processes. The challenges facing process change are many, and include both technically complex and politically sensitive issues. Techniques such as probabilistic risk assessment and decision analysis can be used to quantitate risks and tradeoffs, and introduce a degree of reasonableness and objectivity to the risk assessment and management processes. However, the achievement of meaningful change will also require confronting subjective emotional issues and the development of total systems which will ultimately produce the desired results. This paper considers the role of both objective and subjective criteria in the risk-based closure and management processes and makes suggestions for improving the system by which these sites may be reclaimed.