please explain a superfund cleanup
September 28, 2010 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about cleaning up a toxic creek. In this case, something like the Newtown Creek in NY, now a Superfund site.​2010/09/28/​nyregion/​28newtown.html What is the process? Is it dredged? Dammed and drained? Dust, noise, time? Please explain the engineering. If the waste has seeped laterally, and it has, does that mean extensive excavation? What is the impact on the surrounding properties? What happens to property values, how do banks look at this, now and looking to the future? Please explain from a Realtor's or developer's viewpoint.
posted by ebesan to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This article in Harpers (full version paywalled) goes into detail about the ongoing attempt to clean up industrial contaminants spilled by GE in the Hudson. There is a detailed discussion of whether or not dredging makes sense or makes it worse, how much dredging, how they calculated how far stuf got into the water table, etc. Of course that situation is specific to the contaminants GE dumped, but you might like the article if you can find it.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:59 PM on September 28, 2010

Sadly, I think it really depends on the site and what exactly is the problem. Much of NE Denver is a Superfund site - most likely almost the entire town of Leadville, CO is one, too. In the case of Denver, it has to do with radioactive ground - there's nothing much to do, except clean it up and wait it out, I guess. Couer de Alene in Northern Idaho is a huge Superfund site - they just made it into a park, with a bike path and tell you not to eat/drink anything around it.

The bears seem to be doing OK.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:31 PM on September 28, 2010

here. also check out the pdf link here. It's different for every site, depending upon what the concentration and nature of the contaminants are. Sometimes dredging, sometimes damming, draining, and removal of all the soil, then replace with clean fill. Poke around the Superfund site and look at some of the other pdf's--this one is still being looked at, but many have been done and have complete reports, including ongoing projects (voc maintanance, etc.).
posted by exlotuseater at 9:41 PM on September 28, 2010

I work on furniture / in a woodshop adjacent to this site. They have a voc reclamation field with pumps going 24/7. (I don't drink the water)
posted by exlotuseater at 9:43 PM on September 28, 2010

Here's a list of other Superfund (NPL) sites that match the contaminants and contaminated media currently listed for the Newtown site. I'm afraid to say that the sites I'm familiar with on that list (Region 9 sites) are big, long, ugly Superfund sites. It will most likely take a long time to sort out. The exact process will depend on the remedial investigation and feasibility reports. If you sign up for the mailing list on the Superfund site page there will be public meetings going over this information when it becomes available.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:47 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, very little happens quickly in Superfund - even Removal Actions under ToSCA can take a long while.

The engineering depends on the remedy that's selected, and the remedy depends on the risk assessment and feasibility. Risk Assessment: they evaluate who is most exposed there (in a case like that, maybe residents 0-29 years old for a period of 30 years), what chemicals they're exposed to, how they're exposed (would they breath it? absorb it through the skin while gardening? drink the groundwater?), what the health effects from those chemicals are, and how much of those chemicals those people are exposed to.

Note: there also may be ecological risk to evaluate and consider for a creek, as contaminated sediment is the primary driver in most ecological risk characterizations.

Creeks can be cleaned up in several ways, including capping, dredging while watered, and dredging while dewatered. Each has their tradeoffs. The dredged material can be disposed of nearby (on-site containment) or in an off-site landfill, which is more expensive but also more likely in a densely populated area. Capping is a remedy whereby contamination is basically buried below a layer of clean (or even reactive) material such as sand or charcoal and sand. Capping is sometimes done in place of or in combination with dredging.

An important factor in any remedy listed above will be to contain the contamination during remediation. This includes air monitoring to be sure that contamination doesn't get off-site, wetting down soils to minimize dust, pump-and-treat remediation of any volatile groundwater plumes, etc.

For a real-estate and developer standpoint, the length of time to a completed clean-up can be a significant drain on resources. My impression is that clean-up can be inconvenient and drive down property values, at least in the short term. However, there are some brownfields laws and grants (at least in Massachusetts) designed to help redevelop and clean up old industrial sites, and many clean-ups have been highly successful.
posted by ldthomps at 12:41 PM on September 29, 2010

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