Global Warming’s Effects on Far North Hazardous Waste Site

As first reported by Brown University, researchers recently published a study that indicates that climate change is poised to release hazardous wastes at an abandoned United States military base in Greenland.

The work has led Vittus Qujaukitsoq, Greenland’s minister of industry, labor, and trade and foreign affairs, to publicly demand that Denmark prepare to clean up the base and compensate residents who live near it. In his statement, Qujaukitsoq refers to the study, which appears in Geophysical Research Letters.

Camp Century, Greenland, circa 1959
Camp Century, Greenland, circa 1959
According to the October 13th edition of the Danish newspaper Berlingske, Qujaukitsoq also demanded renegotiation of the Danish-American defense agreement in Greenland. Søren Espersen, member of Danish parliament and chairman of Denmark’s foreign policy committee, strongly objected to this demand, the newspaper reports.

In the study, Jeff Colgan, associate professor of political science and international and public affairs at Brown University’s Watson Institute, and colleagues discuss both the historic and climatic context of the base and anticipated the potential for political acrimony.

“Our study highlights that Camp Century now possesses unanticipated political significance in light of anthropogenic climate change,” the researchers write. “The potential remobilization of wastes that were previously regarded as properly sequestered, or preserved for eternity is an instance, possibly the first, of a potentially new pathway to political dispute associated with climate change.”

During the Cold War, the US government and Denmark signed a treaty to jointly defend Greenland, a Danish territory, from Soviet attack, Colgan says. Camp Century was established in Greenland in 1959 and was intended “to test the feasibility of building nuclear missile launch sites close enough to reach the Soviet Union,” according to an article in New Security Beat by Colgan and his coauthor William Colgan of York University in Ontario. Camp Century shuttered after eight years, in 1967.

“The base was abandoned with minimal decommissioning,” the researchers write in the Geophysical Research Letters study, “as engineering design of the era assumed that the base would be ‘preserved for eternity’ by perpetual snowfall.” According to the study, the Army Corps of Engineers removed the base’s nuclear reactor core but left the camp’s infrastructure and all other waste behind.

According to the study, waste left at the site includes diesel fuel, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), biological waste including grey water and sewage in unlined sumps, and radiological waste in the form of coolant for the portable nuclear generator at the base.

Since the camp was decommissioned, Jeff Colgan says, “falling snow has buried the camp roughly 115 feet further underneath the ice.” Climatic projections, however, “predict increased surface melting in northwestern Greenland through 2100,” according to the study.

Colgan and Colgan point out that climate change has warmed the Arctic more than any other region on Earth. They and their coauthors predict that the waste, which they found covers 136 acres, could begin to reemerge in 2090.

“The PCBs are likely the biggest concern for animal and human health, if they are remobilized into surface waters,” according to Colgan and Colgan, who add that the pollutants could reach the ocean, disrupt marine ecosystems, and accumulate in the food chain.

“It is very understandable that Greenland’s government wants clarity on who is responsible for the pollution and whether they will accept the eventual costs of environmental remediation,” Jeff Colgan says, but “as we emphasized in the study, there is no environmental risk in the near-term, and likely the pollution will stay buried in the ice for several decades at least.

“Right now, what’s needed is monitoring and research to assess if and when clean-up actions are necessary.”

Brownfield Conference in Newark, New Jersey

The 8th Northeast Sustainable Communities Workshop is scheduled for March 15th2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  Sponsored by the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast, the workshop will is entitled Driving Revitalization Sustainably: identifying sustainable goals and strategies for revitalizing their communities and brownfields,

The conference brings together experts and attendees to discuss the most current and state-of-the-art approaches and strategies are unique and typically heard at other events.  Past workshops have been attended by representatives from government, higher education, professional organizations, and laboratories, as well as attorneys, developers, contractors, and consultants.

The goals of the workshop are to break new ground, offer new ideas, and posit new concepts on the topics of sustainability, collaboration and leverage, contamination, resiliency, brownfields, technology, and their impact on community revitalization.

The workshop is known to for using PowerPoint presentations sparingly, having speakers that are concise, yet informative; and providing plenty of time in each session for dialogue between attendees, speakers, and moderators.

To register for the March 15, 2017 visit the workshop website.

Guide on Long-Term Contaminant Management Using Institutional Controls

The U.S. Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (ITRC) recently published a guidance document on Long-Term Contaminant Management Using Institutional Controls (IC-1).  The guidance document was developed in response to the recent growth in the number of contaminated sites in the U.S. that are being managed through the use of institutional controls (ICs).

ICs are a form of land use controls that provide protection from exposure to contaminants on a site.  In contrast to engineered site remedies, ICs consist of government controls, proprietary controls, enforcement or permit mechanisms, and informational devices that limit land or resource use (thus protecting human health by controlling how the property is used).

The guidance manual includes a survey of current state practices for ICs, best practices for developing and managing ICs.  As part of the manual, there is a downloadable tool that can be used to document critical information about an IC.  This tool can help to create a lasting record of the site that includes the regulatory authority, details of the IC, the responsibilities of all parties, a schedule for monitoring the performance of the IC, and much more relevant information.  The tool generates an editable Long Term Stewardship (LTS) plan in Microsoft Word.

Real-Time Mapping of Chlorinated Solvent DNAPL in the Subsurface

A report United States Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (U.S. ESTCP) recently released a report that describes the testing of a new direct-push optical screening tool for high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) subsurface mapping of chlorinated solvent dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) in unlithified sediments. 

Unlithified sediments are sediments that have not undergone lithification, a process whereby sediments are transformed into solid rocks.  The sediments are still in loose form and have not become compacted by pressure.

 The tool was field-tested at a formerly used defense facility in Massachusetts in fall 2013 (Geoprobe® delivery) and again in March 2014 (CPT delivery).  The new tool, a laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) technology referred to as “DyeLIF,” was developed and validated during this project and is now commercially available. 

The DyeLIF probe functions by injecting an aqueous delivery fluid containing a proprietary hydrophobic dye through a small injection port that is situated below the LIF window.  As the probe is advanced through the subsurface, the injected dye contacts the soil and quickly partitions into any present DNAPL. Standard LIF tooling is used to detect the dye-labeled chlorinated solvent DNAPLs.  The fluorescent signature of un-solvated and solvated dye is sufficiently different.

The U.S. ESTCP is U.S. Department of Defense’s (U.S. DoD) environmental technology demonstration and validation program.  The Program was established in 1995 to promote the transfer of innovative technologies that have successfully established proof of concept to field or production use.  U.S. ESTCP demonstrations collect cost and performance data to overcome the barriers to employ an innovative technology because of concerns regarding technical or programmatic risk, the so-called “Valley of Death.”

Chlorinated solvents are among the most common organic contaminants detected in groundwater at US. DoD sites.  The sources of these contaminants are often historical releases of DNAPLs. Unfortunately, chlorinated solvent DNAPL source zones are difficult to locate using conventional subsurface characterization technologies.  Laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) tools are currently available for real-time, high-resolution mapping of petroleum hydrocarbon and coal tar-based NAPL source zones.  These LIF tools do not work with chlorinated solvent DNAPLs because chlorinated solvents lack the aromatic structure responsible for the laser-induced fluorescence in coal tars and petroleum hydrocarbons.  

The objective of the field demonstration was to provide a field-scale demonstration of the new DyeLIF tool for high-resolution subsurface mapping of chlorinated DNAPLs.  The real-time, high-resolution profiles generated from the DyeLIF were then compared to profiles from high resolution vertical soil sampling with subsequent dye shake tests and quantitative laboratory VOC analysis. 

No major implementation issues were identified during the field demonstrations.  However, a key limitation for any direct-push technology is suitability of the geological conditions for direct-push probing, i.e. absence of cobbles or other conditions that would cause tool damage and preclude advancing the probes.

Chemical Poisoning of Polar Bears

According to a recent scientific study, polar bears face chemical poisoning 100 times above levels considered safe for adult bears.  The reason is that certain pollutants bioaccumulate in the environment.

A research article in the recent edition of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistryshows that the bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the arctic ecosystem are playing havoc on the diet of polar bears.

Trace quantities of PCBs are still found in the blood of polar bears.  Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is also found in surprisingly high concentrations in polar bears.  PFOCs are found in fire fighting foams, oil repellent paper, packaging and fabrics.

When a bear eats a seal, toxins are amplified 34-fold.  POPs accumulate in in muscle rather than fat.

The polar bear population in the arctic is estimated to be at 26,000.  Scientists estimate that number will fall by a third by the 2050’s due to the impact of climate change.  It is uncertain if this new information on toxicity will impact the estimate.

New and emerging contaminants being found in polar bears can only reduce the number.



U.S. EPA Gives $3.8M for Clean-up of Brownfield Sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has selected 19 communities for approximately $3.8 million in funding to assist with planning for cleanup and reuse of Brownfield sites as part of the Brownfields Area-Wide Planning (AWP) program.  Each recipient will receive up to $200,000 to engage their community and conduct planning activities for brownfield site reuse.

The grants will help communities plan improvements such as housing, transportation options, recreation and open space, education and health facilities, social services, renewed infrastructure, increased commerce and employment opportunities.

“The Area-Wide Planning grant program is an innovation initiated by the Obama Administration to empower communities to transform economically and environmentally distressed areas, including communities impacted by manufacturing plant closures, into vibrant future destinations for business, jobs, housing and recreation,” said Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for U.S. EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management.  “These grants provide the opportunity for communities to determine for themselves revitalization plans that best meet their vision and needs based on a rigorous analysis of market and infrastructure in a manner that benefits and does not displace long-term residents.”

Assistant Administrator Stanislaus announced the new AWP recipients for funding at a community event in Norfolk, Va.

The U.S. EPA’S AWP program was modeled after New York State’s Brownfields Opportunity Area (BOA) Program, which was developed by communities – particularly lower income communities – to enable them to drive development that meets their needs without displacing them. Studies have shown that residential property values near brownfields sites that are cleaned up increased between 5 and 15 percent. Data also shows that brownfields clean ups can increase overall property values within a one-mile radius. Preliminary analysis involving 48 brownfields sites shows that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup.

This year’s selected recipients for funding are:

  • Eastern Maine Development Corporation, Bucksport, Maine
  • City of Providence, R.I.
  •  Isles, Inc., East Trenton, N.J.
  • City of Wilmington, Del.
  • Redevelopment Authority of the City of Harrisburg, Pa.
  • City of Norfolk, Va.
  • University of South Florida, Tampa, Fla.
  • City of Middlesborough, Ky.
  • Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, Charleston and North Charleston, S.C.
  • Near East Area Renewal, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Wayne County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, River Rouge, Mich.
  • Lorain County, Lorain, Ohio
  • Port of New Orleans, New Orleans, La.
  • City of Burlington, Iowa
  • Resource Conservation and Development for Northeast Iowa, Inc., Postville, Iowa
  • City of Glenwood Springs, Colo.
  • City of Orem, Utah
  • Trust for Public Land, Los Angeles, Calif.
  • City of Grants Pass, Ore.

Alberta Government Orders Clean-up of Contaminated Site

The Government of Alberta recently issued an Enforcement Order to Cherokee Canada Inc. which requires the company to clean-up hazardous waste at a former creosote plant in Edmonton.

The creosote plant had operated from 1924 until 1987 and was purchased by a numbered company in 2010 from Domtar.  At that time, the plan was for residential development of the site.

As part of the redevelopment plan, a berm was built using contaminated materials from the site.  In 2015, the government requested that the soil from the berm be analyzed.

The recent Order requires the company to submit a written sampling and contaminant delineation plan of the berm.  A remediation plan must also be submitted.

Creosote is a thick, black, oily liquid that is a mixture of hundreds of chemicals.  The major chemicals in coal tar creosote are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenol, and creosols. Creosote is the most common product utilized to preserve wood in North America and is also used as a pesticide.  Mild exposure to creosote can result in breathing problems and skin irritation. Longer term exposure to creosote has been linked to cancer.

“First, we have to determine the nature of the contamination, and that would provide direction for how those sites would need to be remediated.  Our concern is that the contamination on those sites be addressed,” Alberta Environment spokesman Jamie Hanlon said with respect to the Enforcement Order.

Alberta Environment said the site is proposed for a residential development.  The department said the current site approval holders have failed to act upon numerous requests since last year for soil sampling results on the berm.

U.S. Justice Department settles with Clean-up Firms over False Claims

The United States Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ) recently announced that Bechtel National Inc., Bechtel Corp., URS Corp. (predecessor in interest to AECOM Global II LLC) and URS Energy and Construction Inc. (now known as AECOM Energy and Construction Inc.) agree to pay $125 million to resolve allegations under the U.S. False Claims Act.  The U.S. DOJ alleged that the companies had made false statements and claims to the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE) by charging the U.S. DOE for deficient nuclear quality materials, services, and testing that was provided as the Waste Treatment Plant at the US. DOE’s Hanford Site near Richland, Washington.

The United States alleged that the defendants violated the False Claims Act by charging the government the cost of complying with these standards when they failed to do so.  In particular, the United States alleged that the defendants improperly billed the government for materials and services from vendors that did not meet quality control requirements, for piping and waste vessels that did not meet quality standards and for testing from vendors who did not have compliant quality programs.  The United States also alleged that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly claimed and received government funding for lobbying activities in violation of the Byrd Amendment, and applicable contractual and regulatory requirements, all of which prohibit the use of federal funds for lobbying activities.

The settlement also resolves allegations that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly used federal contract funds to pay for a comprehensive, multi-year lobbying campaign of Congress and other federal officials for continued funding of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant.  In its press release, the U.S. DOJ stated that the claims asserted against defendants are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. are Nevada corporations.  URS Corp. is headquartered in California and URS Energy and Construction Inc. is headquartered in Colorado.

The Hanford facility made more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors along the Columbia River.  Five huge plants in the center of the Hanford Site processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors, discharging an estimated 450 billion gallons of liquids to soil disposal sites and 53 million gallons of radioactive waste to 177 large underground tanks.

Plutonium production ended in the late 1980s.  Hanford cleanup began in 1989, when a landmark agreement was reached between U.S. DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Government of Washington State.  Known as the Tri-Party Agreement, the accord established hundreds of milestones for bringing the Hanford site into compliance with federal and state environmental regulations.

The U.S. DOE has paid billions of dollars since 2002 to the defendants to design and build the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP).  The WTP will be used to treat dangerous radioactive wastes that are currently stored at the Hanford Site.

Canada’s Supreme Court asked to Rule on Contaminated Landfill Site

The municipal government of the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) is appealing a court decision on Shawnigan Lake landfill to the Supreme Court of Canada.  The CVRD wants the Supreme Court to order that the landfill be shut down and that deposited contaminated soil be removed.  The landfill has a permit to operate that was issued by the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment.

A consortium of companies own and manage the landfill.  The companies include South Island Aggregates (SIA), Cobble Hill Holding (CBH), and South Island Resource Management (SIRM). The existing permit, issued by the B.C. Environment Ministry permits the disposal of approximately 5 million tonnes of contaminated soil at the landfill.

The Shawnigan landfill is the site of a former quarry.  The CVRD is of the view that existing zoning bylaws for the municipality does not allow the property to be used as a landfill.

In the spring of 2016, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in favour of CVRD.  However, an appeal by the site owners to the B.C. Court of Appeal resulted in the lower court ruling being overturned.  Now CVRD is taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In the view of CVRD, the local municipality should have the ability to control land use through zoning bylaws and without provincial interference.  The Site owners are of the opinion that the quarry and landfill activity falls under provincial jurisdiction.

The consortium of companies that own and operate the landfill had 30 days to response to CVRD’s application to the Supreme Court to hear the case.  A decision by the Supreme Court on whether it will hear the case is expected shortly.

CVRD is not only asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision on use of the property as a landfill but also require the property owners to remove any contaminated soil that has already been deposited.


Framework Guidance Manual for In-Situ Wetland Restoration

This manual, prepared under the U.S. Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), is a guide to the use of in situ reactive amendment technologies for remediation of contaminated wetland hydric soils.  The manual provides a toolbox of methods with which to approach site characterization/monitoring, treatability testing and demonstration, and remedy implementation.

The following information can be found in the Guidance Manual:

(1) A repository of literature sources for active in situ remedial projects;

(2) A conceptual approach to managing the remediation of wetland hydric soils;

(3) Suggestions for project objectives, metrics, and evaluation criteria;

(4) A discussion of implementation means and methods; and

(5) An assessment of technology cost.

This guide is based upon a field demonstration conducted at Aberdeen Proving Ground, located in Aberdeen, Maryland, to determine the most effective amendment to immobilize PCBs in wetland sediments among the following agents: powdered activated carbon slurry (Slurry Spray), two pelletized AC products (AquaBlok® and SediMite™), and an engineered manufactured soil cover system (sand control).

ESTCP is the United States Department of Defense’s environmental technology demonstration and validation program.  The Program was established in 1995 to promote the transfer of innovative technologies that have successfully established proof of concept to field or production use.  ESTCP demonstrations collect cost and performance data to overcome the barriers to employ an innovative technology because of concerns regarding technical or programmatic risk.