Deciding exactly how to go about cleaning up a particular Superfund site is a detailed scientific process that follows many steps before a final plan is established and can be implemented. However, the ultimate goal is always the same: to protect human health and our environment.
The remedial investigation process strives to identify practical hazardous waste management options that:
- Meet location- and chemical-specific applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements (ARARs), including water and air quality.
- Provide permanent solutions and treatment technologies to the maximum extent possible.
- Are cost-efficient. Considering response actions previously used for sites with similar characteristics can sometimes save time and money by avoiding duplication of testing and evaluation for which results already exist.
To accomplish this, remedial investigation involves listing multiple possible corrective measures, then evaluating them against specific standards to arrive at the most promising solution.
There are four alternatives for controlling contaminant sources:
- Methods that eliminate or minimize to the fullest extent possible any ongoing site management requirements. This typically involves excavating and treating all contaminated soil or all soil at or above a specific depth.
- Treatment that focuses key threats. This typically involves excavating and treating localized “hot spots” contaminated with liquids, highly toxic and/or highly mobile waste.
- Innovative technologies, where applicable.
- Containment options accompanied by little or no treatment. This most often applies when contamination is of lower level or direct treatment isn’t a viable option.
A “no action” alternative serves as a baseline against which to compare the other four options, although “no action” may also recommend ongoing environmental monitoring.
The development of alternatives process includes:
- Defining remedial action objectives (RAOs).
- Establishing general response actions for containment, treatment or removal of contaminated media.
- Identifying volumes or areas to which general response actions can be applied, based on exposure routes, type and extent of contamination, initial remedial goals and a preliminary list of action-specific ARARs.
- Identifying and evaluating technologies. Although innovative technologies are sometimes more difficult to assess because they have less performance history, they are seriously considered if they could provide equal or better results than traditional options, create fewer or lesser adverse impacts or cost less.
- Evaluating process options to determine probable effectiveness, feasibility of implementation and comparable cost.
- Grouping media-specific technologies and further assessing each option.
Once agency personnel and contractors agree on remedial investigation results, the development process is documented within the overall Feasibility Study report.