Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Update from the Sustainable Remediation Forum

SuRFing at the New Jersey Institute of Technology
Maile Smith, August 22, 2007

You may have been wondering why I wasn't hassling you for your input on the MEW feasibility study this week. It's because I'm attending the Sustainable Remediation Forum (SuRF) meeting in Newark, New Jersey. SuRF was founded and meetings are organized and chaired by DuPont. This is the group's fourth meeting, but my first. I can assure you, however, that it won't be my last. This is a thoughtful and tenacious group of practitioners--representing industry, regulatory agencies, consulting companies, and NGOs--that is working to accomplish an extremely challenging objective: to establish a framework that incorporates sustainable concepts throughout the remedial action process that provides long-term protection of human health and the environment and achieves public and regulatory acceptance. Of course, the "how" to accomplish this objective is complex and will likely evolve as our understanding of sustainability and remediation science evolves. But, we are off to a great start.

Today's session began with a presentation from Deb Goldblum of EPA Region 3, about a pilot project at the DuPont Martinsville, Virginia site. A primary goal of this project is to add sustainability as a balancing criterion in RCRA remedy selection. In order to do so, they have developed a quantitative credit and debit matrix to measure the sustainability criterion.

Gil Meyer, DuPont, gave a presentation on the history of human reactions to new technologies. Technologies typically go through cycles of acceptance and controversy, facing four general factors for acceptance: (1) relative economic advantage or existing technology; (2) social value and prestige; (3) compatibility with vested interests; and (4) visibility of the direct advantages. The road to public acceptance often bounces between initial enthusiasm, commercialization, and familiarity, and rumblings of concern, public protests, and, hopefully, eventually, acceptance. The perception of risk is based on hazards + outrage, with outrage stemming from whether or not the risk is voluntary as opposed to involuntary, who is in control of the risk (e.g., I’m comfortable holding both nail and hammer, but not holding the nail and someone else swinging the hammer), if the risk familiar or not (e.g., chemicals under the sink are familiar, “not voodoo”), if the process is fair (was I or my representative involved in the process), moral issues (e.g., risks particular to children or reproductive health), and if the risk is artificial/man-made or natural.

A presentation followed from Nicola Harries, CL:AIRE (contaminated land: applications in real environments), on their UK sustainable remediation meeting. The meeting brought together attendees from UK government, regulators, industry, environmental consultants, technology vendors, contractors, other European organizations, NGOs, and academia to come up with success criteria for judging sustainability in remediation. They identified four areas for further research: literature survey (output: policy development, metrics), cost-benefit analysis framework, existing tools outside industry (e.g., life-cycle analysis), and existing tools inside industry (e.g., those developed by DuPont, Shell, etc.).

Charles Iceland, World Resources Institute, gave a presentation on their corporate ecosystem services review (ESR). His group rightly asserts that businesses are heavily dependent on ecosystem services: they both contribute to ecosystem change and use ecosystem services. WRI is partnering with Meridian Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development to develop the corporate ESR methodology, which is being “road-tested” by DuPont, BC Hydro, Monsanto, Rio Tinto, and others.

Dan Watts, NJIT, presented on the challenges of quantifying the longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere. This seems like it should be a very simple question, but it has a very complex answer. The answer lies in the balance between additions (deforestation, burning of fossil fuels) and deletions (absorption by atmosphere and oceans), which equals the amount absorbed on land. This question needs to be answered in order to determine how and when we can stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels, if for only the reason that CO2 concentration, temperature, and sea level continue to rise long after emissions are reduced.

Frank Evans, National Grid, gave a presentation on the use of metrics to make better sustainable remediation decisions. National Grid is a global utility company, operating in the UK and US. It has different drivers for remediation of surplus and operational land, but four common general objectives of sustainable remediation: social progress, environmental protection, prudent use of natural resources, and maintaining high and stable economic growth and employment.

Carlos Pachon from EPA, OSWER (his specific group runs Clu-In and Tech Direct), presented preliminary "flash" findings from their initial analytical approach to energy and carbon footprint for site cleanup treatment technologies in the Superfund remedial program. Their working definition of “green remediation” is the practice of considering the environmental effects of a remediation strategy early in the process and incorporating options to maximize the net environmental benefit of the cleanup action. Their preliminary goal is to foster the adoption of greener remediation practices across cleanup programs by benchmarking the state of the practice, identifying opportunities for improvement at cleanups, capacity-building and networking practitioners, and creating enabling mechanisms. So far they have found that pump-and-treat results in by far the highest energy use and carbon emissions (per project and per year and projected into the future), e.g., 402M vs. 32M kWh energy use per project and 275K vs. 16K tons of carbon emissions per year for P&T vs. multiphase extraction, respectively.

The final presentation of the day came from Dave Ellis, DuPont, which was a survey of several case studies on the use of sustainability metrics at their sites.

We finished the day with a question for the group: What are the metrics issues that most concern you?
Answers included:
- How to evaluate new factors (e.g., recycled concrete)
- The detail, implementability, and consistency of metrics
- The scale of our impact (from remediation) vs. other impacts
- Over-rating or over-valuing the sustainability criterion in remedy decisions
- How to assign value to time
- What equivalent to assign to different metrics when screening technologies or selecting remediation options

Seem like a lot to cover in one day? It was! But, to borrow a term from Ray Anderson, we've only just begun our ascent of Mt. Sustainability. We've got an exciting journey ahead of us.

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