The Role of Risk and Future Land Use in Cleanup Decisions at the Department of Energy
As a result of the legacy of the Cold War, the Departments of Energy and Defense are involved in massive cleanup and remediation projects. While health risk to humans and ecological receptors is perceived to be the basis for remediation, this assumption is rarely examined. In this article, we examine the role of risk and future land-use designations in cleanup decisions, using the Department of Energy's self-assessment of 36 sites. We then discuss the risk-related tools that might be required to address the cleanup challenge. Much of the current cleanup program is driven by compliance with federal and state statutes and regulations, presumably to protect human health and the environment. Compliance, however, is not synonymous with cleanup. Although some of these laws and regulations take risk into account, the lack of site-specific data on exposures and risk scenarios, and the lack of attention to future land use or end states, has often resulted in disconnects between risk and cleanup goals, risk and final end states, and cleanup levels and end state or subsequent land use. Partly, these disconnects result from the need for a range of technical, economic, sociological, and public policy tools to address the issues. A better transfer of information among and within Department of Energy facilities, operations offices, and DOE headquarters is required. Further, linking cleanup decisions and goals with the final end state involves a number of risk tradeoffs, including (1) ecological versus human health, (2) worker versus public health, (3) among competing contaminated areas, (4) among temporal patterns of cleanup, (5) among different ecological receptors (plants vs. animals, one animal vs. another), and (6) among the sites across the DOE complex. For the nation, balancing among risks is essential within sites and among Department of Energy sites, as well as among other remediation sites (such as those of Department of Defense and Superfund sites).