New Report Projects Number, Cost and Nature of Contaminated Site Cleanups in the U.S. Over Next 30 Years
Over the next several decades, federal, state and local governments and private industry will commit billions of dollars annually to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous waste and petroleum products from a variety of industrial sources. This week, the EPA released a report projecting that as many as 350 thousand contaminated sites will require cleanup over the next 30 years, assuming current regulations and practices remain the same. The bill for this cleanup may amount to as much as $250 billion. The majority of this expenditure will be borne by the owners of the properties (private and public entities) and those potentially responsible for the contamination.
Researchers and technology developers are continually working to provide smarter and cheaper solutions to the complex environmental contamination problems still to be addressed. The report, Cleaning Up the Nation's Waste Sites: Markets and Technology Trends (2004 Edition), provides a national overview of the market for the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous waste and petroleum products. The EPA believes that information on the Nation's cleanup needs will help industry and government officials develop better and more targeted research, development, and government strategies.
According to the report, there will be a need to address many smaller sites such as those containing Underground Storage Tanks (UST) (43% of the total sites) and various hazardous waste properties (50% of the total sites). These two site categories, however, only account for twenty two percent of the costs. The remaining seven percent of sites, including those on the National Priorities List and U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy sites, tend to be larger, more complex and more costly to remediate and will thus require a larger share of funding.
Contractors serving the larger NPL, RCRA, DOD, and DOE sites tend to be large, although subcontracting to smaller or specialty companies is common. State and UST sites tend to be smaller and thus, the market for these sites tends to be more fragmented, with responsibility for the cleanups being born by property owners and operators and local and state governments. The demand for cleanup of many sites will be influenced by real estate development activity as well as regulatory requirements. Civilian federal agencies have been spending less than $200 million annually on site cleanups. They have an estimated $15-21 billion of cleanup work yet to be completed.
Groundwater and soil are the most prevalent contaminated media. More than three-quarters of NPL, RCRA, DOD and DOE sites have contaminated soil or groundwater, or both. Contaminated sediment, sludge, landfill waste, and surface water also are present, but at fewer sites. Soil and groundwater also are a primary concern for UST sites. Many contamination problems are similar across the major remediation programs. For example, solvents, petroleum products, and metals are common to most programs. Volatile organic compounds and metals are the most frequently occurring contaminant types. Some markets also have more specialized needs arising from wastes that are unique to a particular industrial practice. For example, DOE has a need for technologies to characterize, treat, and dispose of mixed waste; remediate radioactive tank waste; stabilize landfills; and deactivate facilities. DOD is concerned with remediating soils contaminated with explosives and unexploded ordnance and perchlorate.
There is a trend toward more risk-based cleanup approaches and more attention to redevelopment of cleaned up sites in selecting and implementing remedies in most cleanup programs. Underlying these trends is the acceptance, in recent years of improved approaches to site characterization, which has been demonstrated to lead to faster, cheaper, and better cleanups.