Draft DOE Policy Calls for Risk-based Cleanup

The Department of Energy (or DOE), recently released a draft policy this week that is intended to ensure that DOE begins to focus its cleanup efforts on achieving clearly defined, risk-based end states. DOE believes that the new policy will help to complete cleanup work quicker, safer and more efficiently, and would apply to all sites currently undergoing cleanup. This would mean that each site would have to revise their current cleanup baselines to reflect the risk-based end vision of the site. The proposed policy has raised concerns within state regulatory agencies and environmental watchdogs.

The draft policy comes following DOE's finding in its top-to-bottom review that cleanup policies thus far have "achieved little real risk reduction." Furthermore, the draft policy calls current cleanup requirements "inconsistent, contradictory and/or duplicative." The policy claims that there have been scientific developments by both DOE stakeholders and regulators that have helped them to better understand the transport of contaminants and risks posed by those contaminants. DOE claims that these developments have lead to cleanup strategies that are evolving with goals for contaminant containment.

DOE says that the purpose of the policy is to complete cleanup correctly and completely the first time, rather than establish cleanup plans with undefined end states or excessive amounts of cleanup. The policy states that such plans must be based on an integrated site-wide perspective, including current and future land use, document the final anticipated risk-based condition that drives a particular cleanup decision, and consider interim risk to workers, the public and the environment, among other requirements.

Both activists and a representative of Los Alamos National Laboratory are concerned about the definition of risk that DOE proposes in the draft policy. DOE redefines risk as "...The risk to human health and the environment after remediation is complete." [Emphasis added] He says that he is concerned that DOE is "trying to push the sites to negotiate for lesser levels of cleanup than we should have to."

Activists are concerned that restructuring existing site cleanup plans will compromise cleanup around the complex. DOE is already attempting to renege on parts of a cleanup plan that citizens say is essential to maintaining healthy citizen participation in cleanup and long-term stewardship of the Fernald site, which is located near the Ross Township in Ohio. Fernald was a uranium processing plant that is scheduled to complete cleanup in 2006.

Citizens claim that in the settlement of a lawsuit against DOE, DOE would be allowed to leave 80% of contamination on the site provided that there was adequate long-term stewardship and maintenance of a public education center and museum in which to store public documents regarding the site and its contaminants. Activists worry that such a change portends future inadequate cleanup plans and DOE's pulling out of its previous commitments. Lisa Crawford, of Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health, said, "We see them as ... pulling out of an agreement made in good conscious 18 years ago. We have a new administration, and I know things are changing, but it sets a bad tone."

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