Dredging Company fined $350,000 for depositing damaging substance into Fraser River

Company fined $350,000 for depositing damaging substance in Fraser River

Fraser River Pile and Dredge (GP) Inc. recently pleaded guilty to the Fisheries Act violation in British Columbia provincial court. The court fined the company $350,000. The fine was a result of one of the company’s dredging causing the depositing a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish – the Fraser River.

The conviction stems from an incident that occurred on the Fraser River in February 2014. During that time, the company was dredging in Deas Slough in the Fraser River when its vessel punctured a submerged water main carrying chlorinated water to the City of Delta. Enforcement officers from Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) investigated the incident and determined that chlorinated water was released through the pipe into the waterway.

ECCC charged the company with the Fisheries Act violation as Deas Slough is an important fish-bearing body of water and the concentration of chlorine that was released was damaging to fish.

FRPD Equipment in Operation (Source: FRPD)

Fraser River Pile & Dredge (GP) Inc. (FRPD) is Canada’s largest Marine & Infrastructure, Land Foundations and Dredging contractor.  FRPD’s fleet includes cutter suction and trailing suction hopper dredges, spud barges, cranes, dump scows, and flat scows. The company performs all types and sizes of marine & infrastructure, environmental remediation, dredging and land foundations projects.

The $350,000 collected from the company by the government will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund. Also, the company’s name will be added to an Candian environmental offenders registry.

City of Brantford gets loan for completed brownfield project

As reported by Susan Gamble in the Brantford Expositor, The City of Brantford, Ontario is securing a $4.6 million load to cover the expenses related to the remediation of the Sydenham Pearl Brownfield Site.

The site has already been remediated. City Councillors recently voted in favour of the $4.6 million debenture from the Ontario Infrastructure and Lands Corporation with a 20-year interest rate of 3.4 per cent. The agreement will mean the city repays the loan at a rate of $322,878 a year.

The debenture was approved, along with the project, in 2012 and the remediation at the site is complete, but the money has to be returned to the city’s capital project fund, which has been fronting the money.

Joelle Daniels, the city’s director of finance, explained to the Brantford Expositor that the city had been able to finance the costs of the project over the last six years from working capital since the cash flow was available.

“Typically we have an interim balance and that allows us to not issue the debenture until we know the final cost of the project. We wouldn’t have wanted to borrow the money up front and then carry the interest longer.”

The city has about a dozen outstanding debentures, most of them with the Ontario Infrastructure Lands Corporation but others through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities or regular lending institutions.

The Sydenham-Pearl Brownfield Site is a 6 acre property that had most recently owned by two industrial companies, namely Domtar and Crown Electric, which is surrounded by residential properties, a public playground, a vacant school property, and a rail line.

Crown Electric Manufacturing 17 Sydenham Street
Image Source: (City of Brantford Records Department)

Prior to remediation, soil testing and groundwater testing had shown high levels of industrial chemicals, including but not limited to trichloroethylene and its breakdown products, ethylbenzene and vinyl chloride. 

As is the case with many brownfields, the Sydenham-Pearl Brownfield site has its history rooted in industrial purposes.  The properties have changed hands many times over the course of several decades, and have survived many changes in environmental policies.  Policies including the disposal of hazardous waste and even what chemicals are considered to be hazardous in the first place.

The remediation took 8 weeks to complete and included: the removal of underground storage tanks; excavation and offsite disposal of petroleum hydrocarbons in soil; and in situ soil mixing to break down volatile organic compounds in soil and groundwater.

With remediation activities complete, Phase 3 soil capping and berm construction began. Installation of the soil cap was a requirement of the Ontario Environment Ministry in accordance with the Risk Assessment completed for these properties. Milestone Environmental Contracting completed soil capping and berm construction.

Work at the Sydenham Pearl Brownfield Remediation project was completed in 2017 with required certificates received from the province last spring. The city is currently finishing off sampling and monitoring of the site as required by the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks.

The project, which took in 17 and 22 Sydenham, involved removing more than 3,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil to a provincial landfill.

Formerly the site of Crown Electric and Domtar, which made roofing materials, the site was an eyesore, inhabited by squatters and an invitation for fires.

Large fires in 2001 and 2004 meant the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to level buildings and clear the area. The properties were seized for tax sales and a remediation plan was created.

Milestone Environmental Contracting spent $2.4 million of the budget on the remediation and another $2.2 million was set aside for the greening process and contingency funding.

Ontario: Fertilizer Producer fined $90,000 for Ammonia Spill

Terra International (Canada) Inc., was recently was convicted of one offence under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and was fined $90,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $22,500. The conviction stems from an incident that occurred on August 11, 2016 when the company reported an ammonia gas release to the Ontario Environment Ministry’s Spills Action Centre. It was subsequently determined that approximately 8.57 tonnes of liquid ammonia was released and contained, which resulted in a release of 997 kilograms of ammonia gas to the air over a two-hour period.

The ammonia release resulted in various adverse effects including the closure of nearby roads for approximately one hour. In addition, two reports were received alleging odours, with one of those alleging irritation; a third report alleged irritation, nausea and difficulty breathing; and employees at one neighbouring company reported evacuating for approximately two hours.

Upon discovery of the ammonia gas release, personnel from Terra conducted a root cause analysis which concluded that a previously unknown mechanical deficiency in an ammonia pump resulted in the failure of a vent pipe containing liquid ammonia.

Terra International (Canada) Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of CF Industries and operates a facility in St. Clair Township, Ontario (30 km south of Sarnia, Ontario) where it produces ammonia and urea products. To produces up to 1.0 million tons of nitrogen products for agricultural and industrial use each year. Approximately 200 people work at the facility.

Pyrolysis makes oil-soaked soil fertile again

As reported by David Ruth in Physics.org, researchers at Rice University in Texas have developed a method of decontaminating soil impacted with heavy oil and making it fertile again. Rice engineers Kyriacos Zygourakis and Pedro Alvarez and their colleagues have fine-tuned their method to remove petroleum contaminants from soil through pyrolysis. The technique gently heats soil while keeping oxygen out, which avoids the damage usually done to fertile soil when burning hydrocarbons cause temperature spikes.

While large-volume marine spills get most of the attention, 98 percent of oil spills occur on land, Alvarez points out, with more than 25,000 spills a year reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. That makes the need for cost-effective remediation clear, he said.

“We saw an opportunity to convert a liability, contaminated soil, into a commodity, fertile soil,” Alvarez said.

The key to retaining fertility is to preserve the soil’s essential clays, Zygourakis said. “Clays retain water, and if you raise the temperature too high, you basically destroy them,” he said. “If you exceed 500 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit), dehydration is irreversible.”

The researchers put soil samples from Hearne, Texas, contaminated in the lab with heavy crude, into a kiln to see what temperature best eliminated the most oil, and how long it took.

Their results showed heating samples in the rotating drum at 420 C (788 F) for 15 minutes eliminated 99.9 percent of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) and 94.5 percent of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), leaving the treated soils with roughly the same pollutant levels found in natural, uncontaminated soil.

The paper appears in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology. It follows several papers by the same group that detailed the mechanism by which pyrolysis removes contaminants and turns some of the unwanted hydrocarbons into char, while leaving behind soil almost as fertile as the original. “While heating soil to clean it isn’t a new process,” Zygourakis said, “we’ve proved we can do it quickly in a continuous reactor to remove TPH, and we’ve learned how to optimize the pyrolysis conditions to maximize contaminant removal while minimizing soil damage and loss of fertility.

“We also learned we can do it with less energy than other methods, and we have detoxified the soil so that we can safely put it back,” he said.

Heating the soil to about 420 C represents the sweet spot for treatment, Zygourakis said. Heating it to 470 C (878 F) did a marginally better job in removing contaminants, but used more energy and, more importantly, decreased the soil’s fertility to the degree that it could not be reused.

“Between 200 and 300 C (392-572 F), the light volatile compounds evaporate,” he said. “When you get to 350 to 400 C (662-752 F), you start breaking first the heteroatom bonds, and then carbon-carbon and carbon-hydrogen bonds triggering a sequence of radical reactions that convert heavier hydrocarbons to stable, low-reactivity char.”

The true test of the pilot program came when the researchers grew Simpson black-seeded lettuce, a variety for which petroleum is highly toxic, on the original clean soil, some contaminated soil and several pyrolyzed soils. While plants in the treated soils were a bit slower to start, they found that after 21 days, plants grown in pyrolyzed soil with fertilizer or simply water showed the same germination rates and had the same weight as those grown in clean soil.

Lettuce growing in once oil-contaminated soil revived by a process developed by Rice University engineers. The Rice team determined that pyrolyzing oil-soaked soil for 15 minutes at 420 degrees Celsius is sufficient to eliminate contaminants while preserving the soil’s fertility. The lettuce plants shown here, in treated and fertilized soil, showed robust growth over 14 days. Credit: Wen Song/Rice University

“We knew we had a process that effectively cleans up oil-contaminated soil and restores its fertility,” Zygourakis said. “But, had we truly detoxified the soil?”

To answer this final question, the Rice team turned to Bhagavatula Moorthy, a professor of neonatology at Baylor College of Medicine, who studies the effects of airborne contaminants on neonatal development. Moorthy and his lab found that extracts taken from oil-contaminated soils were toxic to human lung cells, while exposing the same cell lines to extracts from treated soils had no adverse effects. The study eased concerns that pyrolyzed soil could release airborne dust particles laced with highly toxic pollutants like PAHs.

”One important lesson we learned is that different treatment objectives for regulatory compliance, detoxification and soil-fertility restoration need not be mutually exclusive and can be simultaneously achieved,” Alvarez said.

Bioremediation: Global Markets and Technologies to 2023

A report issued by BCC Research provides an overview of the global markets and technologies of the bioremediation industry. The report predicts that the global bioremediation market should grow from $91.0 billion in 2018 to $186.3 billion by 2023, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.4% from 2018 through 2023.

One of the finding of the report is that the application of bioremediation technology in the water bodies sector held the largest market share in 2017, and it is expected to remain the market leader throughout the forecast period.

The report predicts an ever-increasing use of bioremediation techniques for treating sewage, lakes, rivers and streams, ponds and aqua culture is anticipated to create huge growth opportunities for the market in the coming years. In recent years, however, the rise in the agriculture industries has augmented the growth of hazardous pollutants in the environment, and thus the application of bioremediation methods in the agricultural sector is expected to be the fastest-growing segment.

Redox zones of a typical contaminant plume (Source: Parsons 2004)

The report breaks down and analyzes the bioremediation market into three categories:

  • By type: In situ and ex situ bioremediation.
  • By application: Water bodies, mining, oil and gas, agriculture, automotive and other industries.
  • By region: North America is segmented into the U.S., Canada and Mexico; Europe is segmented into the U.K., Germany, France, Russia and Rest of Europe; the Asia-Pacific region is segmented into Japan, India, China and Rest of Asia-Pacific; and the Rest of the World (ROW) covers Latin America, Middle East and Africa.

The report provides estimated values used are based on manufacturers’ total revenues. Projected and forecast revenue values are in constant U.S. dollars unadjusted for inflation.

This report also includes a patent analysis and a listing of company profiles for key players in the bioremediation market.

Similar Reports

In 2014, a team of United Kingdom researchers at University of Nottingham and Heriot-Watt University issued the results of a global survey on the use of bioremediation technologies for addressing environmental pollution problems. The findings of the survey were quite interesting.

Preferred vs. Actual Treatment Method

One of the findings of the UK survey was the difference between the preferred vs. actual treatment method. More than half of respondents (51%) stated that they would prefer to use environmentally friendly approaches including microbial remediation (35%) and phytoremediation (16%). However, historical information suggests the opposite has actually been the case. Considering the relative low cost and low energy requirements of bioremediation technologies, the gulf between aspiration and practice might be due to various factors involving the risk-averse nature of the contaminated-land industry, or difficulties in project design. The latter include identifying appropriate organisms for removing specified contaminants, optimizing environmental conditions for their action, ascertaining extents of eventual clean-up, and the incomplete understanding of all the mechanisms and processes involved. These lead to difficulties in modeling, simulating and/or controlling these processes for improved outcomes.

Application of Bioremediation Techniques

The Figure below compares the broad bioremediation methods being employed within industry according to the 2014 survey, namely monitored natural attenuation (MNA), bio-augmentation and bio-stimulation. The use of low-cost in situ technologies (like MNA) featured quite prominently, particularly in North America and Europe, where it accounts for over 60% of the bioremediation methods being used. This finding points to a strong concern within the developed countries for better maintenance of ecological balance and preventing a disruption of naturally occurring populations.

MNA has been shown to require 1) elaborate modeling, 2) evaluation of contaminant degradation rates and pathways, and 3) a prediction of contaminant concentrations at migration distances and time points downstream of exposure points. This is to determine which natural processes will reduce contaminant concentrations below risk levels before potential courses of exposure are completed, and to confirm that degradation is proceeding at rates consistent with clean-up objectives. These results appear to suggest that regions which employ computational and modeling resources are better able to use low-cost bioremediation technologies like MNA, whereas the others tend to use the more traditional and less cost-effective technologies. In all the continents, researchers were found to favor the use of bio-stimulation methods. Less disruption of ecological balance is apparently a global concern.

Background on Bioremediation

Bioremediation is a method that uses naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and yeast to degrade or break down hazardous substances into non-toxic or less-toxic substances.Microorganisms eat and digest organic substances for energy and nutrients.

There are certain microorganisms that can dissolve organic substances such as solvents or fuels that are hazardous to the environment.These microorganisms degrade the organic contaminants into less-toxic products, mainly water and carbon dioxide.

The microorganisms must be healthy and active for this to occur.

Bioremediation technology helps microorganisms grow and boosts microbial population by generating optimum environmental conditions. The particular bioremediation technology utilized is determined by various factors, including the site conditions, the presence of type of microorganisms, and the toxicity and quantity of contaminant chemicals.

Bioremediation takes place under anaerobic and aerobic conditions.In the case of aerobic conditions, microorganisms utilize the amount of oxygen present in atmosphere to function.

With a sufficient amount of oxygen, microorganisms transform organic contaminants into water and carbon dioxide. Anaerobic conditions help biological activity in which oxygen is not present so that the microorganisms degrade chemical compounds present in the soil to release the required amount of energy.

Factors of influence in bioremediation processes

Bioremediation technology is used to clean up contaminated water and soil.There are two main types of bioremediation: in situ and ex situ.

The in situ bioremediation process treats the contaminated groundwater or soil in the location where it is found. The ex situ process requires the pumping of groundwater or the excavation of contaminated soil before it can be treated.

In situ bioremediation type is typically segmented as phytoremediation, bioventing, bioleaching, bioslurping, biostimulation and bioaugmentation. The ex situ bioremediation type is typically segmented as composting, controlled solid-phase treatment and slurry-phase biological treatment.

Biodegradation is a cost-effective natural process that is useful for the treatment of organic wastes.The extent of biodegradation is greatly dependent upon the initial concentrations and toxicity of the contaminants, the properties of the contaminated soil, their biodegradability and the specific treatmentsystem selected.

In biodegradation treatment, the targeted contaminants are semi-volatile and nonhalogenated volatile organics and fuels. The benefits of bioremediation, however, are limited at sites with highly chlorinated organics and high concentrations of metals, as they may be harmful to the microorganisms.

https://www.researchandmarkets.com/publication/mkvz6uj/4752244

Using Biosolids to Revegetate Inactive Mine Tailings

Vale Canada (a global mining company with an integrated mine, mill, smelter, and refinery complex in operations Sudbury, Ontario) has been working with Terrapure Environmental (an industrial waste management company) to utilize biosolids on its main tailings area.

For over 100 years, tailings from the milling operation have been deposited in the Copper Cliff Central Tailings impoundment. The facility is still active, but approximately 1,300 hectares are inactive and need reclamation work.

The Big Nickel in Sudbury (Photo Credit: pizzodisevo)

Over the decades, Vale has had some success in revegetation of its tailings area, but there are still large areas of bare or sparsely vegetated tailings, which have led to wind-erosion-management challenges. To control dust, Vale uses agricultural equipment to cover the tailings with straw or hay, as well as a chemical dust suppressant. These practices are costly, and they have to be done continuously to maintain an appropriate cover at all times. In 2012, Vale decided its tailings needed a permanent vegetative cover—not just to suppress dust and reduce erosion, but to improve overall biodiversity. They entered into discussions with Terrapure Organics Solutions (formerly Terratec Environmental) to collaborate on a trial project to apply biosolids on the mine tailings.

In 2012, Vale decided its tailings needed a permanent vegetative cover—not just to suppress dust and reduce erosion, but to improve overall biodiversity. They entered into discussions with Terrapure Organics Solutions (formerly Terratec Environmental) to collaborate on a trial project to apply biosolids on the mine tailings.

The Challenge

The biggest challenge was forging a new path for this type of work. Applying biosolids to mine tailings had never been done before in Ontario. Just to get the right permits and approvals took about two years. Vale Canada and Terrapure worked closely with the Ontario Environment Ministry to ensure standards compliance. Some of this work included helping to determine what those standards should be. Terrapure was able to contribute to these discussions, leveraging decades of expertise in safe biosolids application to agricultural land. Once the Environmental Compliance Approval came in April 2014, the team had to figure out the best application method and proper amount to encourage vegetation, which meant a lot of testing and optimizing.

The Solution

At first, Terrapure mixed biosolids into the surface layer of the tailings. Over time, however, the team learned that applying biosolids to the surface, without mixing, allowed for greater rates of application and coverage at a lower cost.

Terrapure also had to experiment with the right tonnage per hectare. After seeding four trial plots with different amounts of biosolids coverage—20, 40, 60 and 80 dry tonnes/hectare—it was determined that 80 dry tonnes was best for seed germination. At the time, it was the maximum allowable application rate. By the end of 2014, approximately 25 hectares of tailings were amended. Where the biosolids were applied, there were impressive results. Wildlife that had not been seen feeding in the area in years started to return. In 2015, the Ontario Environment Ministry approved an increase in the biosolids application rate to a maximum of 150 dry tonnes/hectare, which was necessary for providing higher organic matter and nutrient levels, and for stabilizing the tailings’ pH levels. This approval also increased the cap on the amount of biosolids that could be delivered to the maximum application rate per hectare. To enhance the program even more, Terrapure and Vale partnered with the City of Greater Sudbury to blend leaf and yard waste with biosolids. By blending these materials, the mixture becomes virtually odourless, its nutrients are more balanced and it allows for a more diverse application.

Glen Watson, Vale’s superintendent of environment, decommissioning and reclamation, surrounded by lush vegetation covering part of the company’s Central Tailings Facility in Sudbury

The Results

As of 2018, Terrapure has successfully covered over 150 hectares of Vale’s tailings with municipal biosolids. Vegetative growth and wildlife are well established on all areas where the team applied organics. Just as importantly, this project has diverted more than 25,000 dry tonnes of valuable biosolids from becoming waste in the landfill. Following the success of the initial trial, the Environment Ministry widened the approval to include all areas of the inactive tailings and a portion of the active tailings. At the current application rate of 150 dry tonnes/hectare, Vale’s central tailings facility could potentially require another 195,000 dry tonnes of biosolids. That’s more than 30 years of biosolids utilization, at an annual rate of 6,000 dry tonnes of material. Needless to say, Vale is very pleased with the results, and the relationship is ongoing. In fact, the Vale team is evaluating other sites in the Sudbury area for this type of remediation, ensuring a long-term, environmentally sustainable rehabilitation program.

U.S.: Opportunity for Environmental R&D Funds for Small & Large Businesses

On January 29th 2019,  the U.S. Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the U.S. Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) released a solicitation for both small and large businesses to competitively fund research and development for environmental research.

The Department of Defense (DoD) SERDP Office is interested in receiving white papers for research focusing in the areas of Environmental Restoration, Munitions Response, Resource Conservation and Resiliency, and Weapons Systems and Platforms technologies. The ESTCP Office is interested in receiving white papers for innovative technology demonstrations that address DoD environmental and installation energy requirements as candidates for funding.

SERDP supports environmental research relevant to the management and mission of the DoD and supports efforts that lead to the development and application of innovative environmental technologies or methods that improve the environmental performance of DoD by improving outcomes, managing environmental risks, and/or reducing costs or time required to resolve environmental problems.

Awardees under this Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) will be selected through a multi-stage review process. The white paper review step allows interested organizations to submit research white papers for Government consideration without incurring the expense of a full proposal. Based upon the white paper evaluation by SERDP, each of the white paper submitters will be notified as to whether SERDP requests or does not request the submission of a full proposal. As noted in the instructions located on the SERDP website, evaluation criteria for white papers are Technical Merit and SERDP Relevance.

Instructions in the links below pertain to the submission of white papers responding to the SERDP BAA for Environmental Research and Development.  This BAA is for Private Sector Organizations. White papers submitted must be in response to a topic listed in the instructions on this page.

Information Related to the Broad Agency Announcement Open Solicitation

Halliburton building explosives facility in Nova Scotia

As reported by the CBC, International oil services company Halliburton is preparing to open an explosives storage facility in Nova Scotia’s Hants County next month. The location of the facility is the former barite mine, approximately two kilometres off the main road. It will be used to store explosives that are used in oil and gas exploration.

Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Explosives Safety and Security Branch (ESSB) administers the Canadian Explosives Act and Regulations. Manufacturers, importers, exporters, transporters, sellers, or users of explosives are all subject to the Explosives Act and Regulations.

The buildings the explosives will be stored in are specially designed to help contain explosions.  Emily Mir, a spokesperson for Halliburton, said the facility will be comprised of several secured storage modules surrounded by a steel fence.

Explosives will be trucked from Halliburton’s Jet Research Center in Alvarado, Texas, to the Nova Scotia storage facility, where they will be stored until they’re needed at other locations in Eastern Canada. Explosives are used to create holes in the steel pipes at the bottom of exploration wells to allow oil or gas to flow into the pipe for extraction. They are also used to help remove pipes from wells when they are no longer in production.

The approximate location of a Halliburton storage facility that will begin operating at the end of February. – Google

Local politicians and residents have raised concerns about the facility and claim they have been kept in the dark about the construction and operation of the facility.

Abraham Zebian, the warden of the Municipality of the District of West Hants, said he was caught off guard by CBC’s questions about the project, as he had little information about it. But he said he does have concerns.

“That would be concerning to any resident, to have that in their backyard,” he said to the CBC. “Disasters ring a bell to me that have happened in Nova Scotia historically. That’s the first thing you start thinking about.”

The Barite mine where the explosives storage facility will located operated for approximately 40 years and used dynamite on a daily basis. An an unfortunate blast was made in one of the large fault zones in 1970 which resulted in flooding of the mine. It ended production 1978. During its operation it was Canada’s largest barite mine and one of the largest deposits in the world. 

The previous owner of the site had a tailings pond that overflowed into the Minas Basin. After Halliburton acquired the property they demolished the old buildings and built a safer berm around the tailings pond.

Ms. Mir told the CBC that the explosives will have the same grade of charges as those used in the mining industry. The amount of explosives stored on site will depend on demand, she said, adding that Halliburton expects to store substantially less than the company’s permit allows.

Legislation

Explosives are highly regulated by Natural Resources Canada under the Explosives Act and Regulations. Transportation of the explosives would need to conform with the federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and Regulations. Ms. Mir said Halliburton received all necessary permits from Canada’s Department of Natural Resources – Explosives Regulatory Division for storage.

The Nova Scotia Environment Ministry, Margaret Miller, confirmed with the CBC that no provincial permits were required for the storage site.

The company did apply to Municipality of the District of West Hants and received a permit for the facility. The permit allows for an industrial accessory steel storage building for storage relating to future offshore oil and gas industry. The permit was issued Nov. 13, 2018, for a 16-foot by 60-foot single storage building.

The explosives storage facility is being built on a piece of property near Walton, N.S., that is owned by Halliburton. (Photo Credit: Robert Short/CBC)

​Ms. Mir said Halliburton has obtained all the necessary permits for the project from Natural Resources Canada as well as a building and development permit from the municipality.

The company said it has hired for three positions at the facility, which is expected to begin operations at the end of February.

Cost of Nuclear Waste Clean-up in the U.S. estimated at $377 Billion

A new report by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates the total cleanup cost for the radioactive contamination incurred by developing and producing nuclear weapons in the United States at a staggering $377 billion (USD), a number that jumped by more than $100 billion in just one year.

The United States Department of Energy (DoE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for cleaning up radioactive and hazardous waste left over from nuclear weapons production and energy research at DoE facilities. The $377 billion estimate largely reflects estimates of future costs to clean up legacy radioactive tank waste and contaminated facilities and soil. 

The U.S. GAO found that EM’s liability will likely continue to grow, in part because the costs of some future work are not yet included in the estimated liability. For example, EM’s liability does not include more than $2.3 billion in costs associated with 45 contaminated facilities that will likely be transferred to EM from other DOE programs in the future.

In 1967 at the height of the U.S.–Soviet nuclear arms race, the U.S. nuclear stockpile totaled 31,255 weapons of all types. Today, that number stands at just 6,550. Although the U.S. has deactivated and destroyed 25,000 nuclear weapons, their legacy is still very much alive.

Nuclear weapons were developed and produced at more than one hundred sites during the Cold War. Cleanup began in 1989, and EM has completed cleanup at 91 of 107 nuclear sites, Still, according to the GAO, “but 16 remain, some of which are the most challenging to address.” 

EM relies primarily on individual sites to locally negotiate cleanup activities and establish priorities. GAO’s analysis of DOE documents identified instances of decisions involving billions of dollars where such an approach did not always balance overall risks and costs. For example, two EM sites had plans to treat similar radioactive tank waste differently, and the costs at one site—Hanford—may be tens of billions more than those at the other site. 

Each of the 16 cleanup sites sets its own priorities, which makes it hard to ensure that the greatest health and environmental risks are addressed first.
This is not consistent with recommendations by GAO and others over the last two decades that EM develop national priorities to balance risks and costs across and within its sites. 

By far the most expensive site to clean up is the Hanford site, which manufactured nuclear material for use in nuclear weapons during the Cold War. In 2017, the DoE estimated site cleanup costs at $141 billion.

Environmental liabilities are high risk because they have been growing for the past 20 years and will likely keep increasing.

EM has not developed a program-wide strategy that determines priority sites. Instead, it continues to prioritize and fund cleanup activities by individual site. Without a strategy that sets national priorities, EM lacks assurance that it is making the most cost-effective cleanup decisions across its sites.

The GAO is made three recommendations to DOE: (1) develop a program-wide strategy that outlines how it will balance risks and costs across sites; (2) submit its mandated annual cleanup report that meets all requirements; and (3) disclose the funding needed to meet all scheduled milestones called for in compliance agreements, either in required annual reports or other supplemental budget materials.

Handbook on Managing Emerging Contaminants

The term “emerging contaminants” and its multiple variants has come to refer to unregulated compounds discovered in the environment that are also found to represent a potential threat to human and ecological receptors. Such contaminants create unique and considerable challenges as the push to address them typically outpaces the understanding of their toxicity, their need for regulation, their occurrence, and techniques for treating the environmental media they affect.

Unregulated compounds that could be potential issues continually surface as detection technology improves, driving the need to more quickly evolve our understanding, technology, and appropriate response options to address them. It is clear that conquering this challenge will play a role in protecting our quality of life.

In Emerging Contaminants Handbook, published by CRC Press, editors Caitlin H. Bell, Margaret Gentile, Erica Kalve, Ian Ross, and John Horst review the latest insights on emerging contaminant occurrence, regulation, characterization, and treatment techniques. The goal is to serve as a primer for deepening your emerging contaminant acumen in navigating their management where they may be encountered.

Use Emerging Contaminants Handbook to:

  • Explore the definition, identification, and life cycle of emerging contaminants.
  • Review current information on sources, toxicology, regulation, and new tools for characterization and treatment of:
    • 1,4-Dioxane (mature in its emerging contaminant life cycle)
    • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs; a newer group of emerging contaminants)
    • Hexavalent chromium (former emerging contaminant with evolving science)
    • 1,2,3-Trichloropropane (progressing in its emerging contaminant life cycle)
  • Examine opportunities in managing emerging contaminants to help balance uncertainty, compress life cycle, and optimize outcomes.

Emerging Contaminants Handbook can be purchased at CRCPress.com or Amazon.com.