Integrated Site Closure Achieves Business and Regulatory Goals

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Courtesy of AECOM

A new concept for cleanup of contaminated properties and hazardous waste sites applicable under federal and state regulatory programs is helping clients achieve both business and regulatory goals at their sites. The concept, called 'Integrated Site Closure', is the seamless integration and delivery of services necessary to reach regulatory closure of contaminated properties. Regulatory closure means fulfilling the regulatory agency requirements to obtain a declaration of No Further Action or limited action (e.g. long-term monitoring) at a site. In some cases, closure may also mean meeting the site owner's requirements to complete necessary investigation/ remediation activities for future land use requirements.

Basic Principles

Two principles formulate the concept of Integrated Site Closure (ISC):

1) Integrate the array of services including agency negotiation, site investigation, risk assessment, feasibility evaluation, design engineering, remediation, and operation and maintenance; and 
2) Stay focused on the end-point, i.e. regulatory closure, ensuring that any work conducted is directly beneficial to advancing toward that end-point.

Integrate the Services

Traditional project site cleanup rationale calls for a linear, segmented approach; a process that involves the delivery of services in discrete, separate parcels, i.e. first do a site investigation, then a risk assessment, then a feasibility study, and so on. This approach, derived from the CERCLA and RCRA regulations, while logical and straightforward, contains substantial inefficiencies. 

For example, traditional approaches use a geologist or hydrogeologist to do the site investigation. For the geologist, the principal objective is to determine the nature and extent of contamination. This information is important, but is only a part of the picture. Site investigators should also be thinking at the outset about what information will be necessary to conduct a risk assessment or design a treatment system that will be considered in detail later. All too often, these future activities are not adequately considered in the early stages of site investigation. 

As a consequence, it is not uncommon to complete the site investigation to the satisfaction of the geologist (and the regulators) only to discover when beginning the risk assessment, that there is insufficient information to adequately determine the risk. As a result, there is a need to return to the site to get additional information that should have been collected previously. This makes the program more costly and time consuming. In other words, the traditional process fails to anticipate future information needs by failing to bring in the right talent at the right time and focus on the ultimate goal for the site.

A better approach is to consider the process holistically and integrate the services along with creative technical and regulatory approaches and to 'drive' the process to regulatory closure. The ISC process importantly includes the spectrum of talent needed to fully address the problems at a site at the outset of work. Experienced practitioners can determine the major areas of risk (by knowing the principal contaminants of concern and exposure pathways) and anticipate the project remedy or combination of remedies that will be appropriate for a particular site.

The questions to be answered in designing the investigative program should not only include: What is the nature and extent of contamination? What information is needed to calculate the human health and environmental risks at the site? and What information is needed to determine the appropriate remedy and to design that remedy?

These questions are appropriately addressed by risk assessment specialists, design engineers, and construction management people, not geologists. Integrating these other disciplines and practitioners into the design of the site investigation and the interpretation of the results that emerge over time makes good business sense.

For one project, ENSR Risk Assessment and Toxicology experts, as an integrated component of the remediation team, helped establish priorities, negotiate cleanup levels, and evaluate alternative remedies from the standpoint of risk reduction. The ISC approach of integrating services kept the program focused on obtaining just the right amount of information at the right time.

Focus on Regulatory Closure

For most companies, reaching regulatory closure with receipt of a No Further Action determination is the coveted end-point. To get to that end-point takes diligence and determination. However, reaching regulatory closure may not always be the desired end-point because it is too expensive. Sometimes, usually due to cash flow constraints, a company may make the business decision to proceed in a measured, stepwise manner to prolong the process and spread out the expenditures or postpone costly remediation as long as possible, even though the total program cost is higher than might otherwise be expected.

The traditional approach makes it very easy to get lost in a forest of information and regulatory minutiae. This problem most often arises in the site investigation stage of work. All too often the focus is on trying to fully characterize exactly where all the contamination is located and to determine precisely how it got there. It is important to do enough characterization to make sure all the sources have been identified (and eventually stopped). However, there is a tendency (often driven by well-intentioned regulatory agency personnel) to feel the need to 'prove' everything. In traditional approaches it is not considered satisfactory to say, 'The data strongly suggest such and such' and take further action (or stop taking action) on that basis. Rather, the tendency is for the regulators to say, 'Okay, prove it' or 'Show me.' Consequently, an investigative program can border on a research project, collecting more information than is really necessary.

A similar pitfall occurs in the evaluation of alternative remedies. There is usually no need to do a formalized feasibility study that incorporates a broad spectrum of possibilities. Experienced ISC staff have sufficient experience with remediation system performance to know what works and to determine the best alternatives. At most, a focused feasibility study may be necessary to iron out design details and to finalize the cost estimates for an appropriate remedy.

The way to avoid these and similar pitfalls is to ask these questions: Is this information really needed to select, design, and implement the remedy and get regulatory approval? Will there be a penalty if there is no information or evaluation?

Another important consideration is how to achieve final, written regulatory approval. The easy answer is to give them whatever they want. This approach works and is applicable in many cases, however, it is often too expensive. Many regulators have an insatiable appetite for information and studies. These may offer redundant proof and make them more comfortable, but do not always necessarily generate useful information. A better approach is to give them the things that are most important to them and avoid arguments over everything with the same degree of intensity. Fight for what is most important to achieve the end-point. The best tools to win points are:

  • Follow the written regulations. If the regulations are deviated from, strong science supported by hard data (site-specific if possible) should be used to prove the point.
  • Show precedent where the proposed activity/remedy was used in other situations (in the same regulatory arena or jurisdiction, if possible)..
  • Present the position clearly, calmly and professionally, without rancor, sarcasm, or other distracting mannerisms.
  • Use actual experience at other locations.

Combining in-depth technical knowledge with a hands-on understanding of the regulatory process and those responsible for administering it, creates an ability to negotiate reasonable cleanup goals, with significant cost savings. Integrated site remediation solutions minimize costs because they are site-specific, technically defensible, and based on technologies that optimize the cost-effectiveness of the cleanup process. By applying ISC principles from the outset, regulatory closure can be achieved sooner and at a lower cost than traditional approaches.


Integrated Site Closure delivers an integrated set of services to conduct site assessment, agency negotiations, risk assessment, evaluation of remedial alternatives, remedial design, implementation, and operation to reach regulatory closure of contaminated properties. The process combines the skills of various disciplines throughout the execution of a project and continuously focuses on the desired end-point so that all activities are fully meaningful and justified. Experience has shown that the ISC approach can significantly reduce the time and cost to achieve regulatory approval and sign-off with a No Further Action determination or other goal for the site that meets a company’s business objectives.

Decommissioning/Closure of Chemical Plant
As part of an engineering and construction project for site decommissioning and closure, a New Jersey chemical production and processing plant has saved thousands of dollars to-date in remediation costs by adhering to ISC procedures. The site remediation was designed to limit exposure to chemical contaminants in sediments and surface soils and to decommission the stormwater management system and wastewater treatment plant. The remedy included sediment removal and relocation, landfill closure in-place, and installation of soil covers in specified areas. An integrated team of professionals including a geologist, engineer, risk assessment scientist, construction manager and the owner’s prime remediation contractor were assembled at the outset to guide the work to successful completion.

Working together, the owner’s representative and the project team identified remediation alternatives early in the process that would minimize construction costs. An innovative decision to characterize the sludge generated during the project as non-hazardous waste contributed to saving the owner $190,000 in remediation costs.

Remediation of Former Railway Facility
A railway facility for cleaning, painting and repairing railroad tank cars in an industrial park was the focus of innovative remedial design and successful agency negotiations that reduced site remediation costs by 45% using an integrated team of professionals.

As a significant cost-saver, two remedy modifications were negotiated that allowed for alternative off-site use of coal tar sludge and contaminated soil, resulting in lower unit disposal costs for excavated materials.

To satisfy performance standards specified in the Record of Decision, a detailed Statement of Work with USEPA was successfully negotiated. Part of the innovative, cost-effective remedial solution included an approach that reduced the amount of excavated soil, and a statistically designed sampling program that reduced the required number of confirmation samples.

A savings of $300K in on-site mitigation costs was realized by effectively negotiating natural resource issues associated with on-site wetlands. By determining the value of disrupted wetlands through delineation and habitat assessment, a settlement was agreed upon with the Department of Interior and EPA to replace wetlands at an alternate location.

The remedial design was also prepared on an expedited schedule. The 60% design deliverable was eliminated, reducing design costs and compressing the schedule. The project went from Explanation of Significant Differences to the field in four months, cutting the normal time for cleanup of the site by several years. The landowner portion of the industrial park has been successfully delisted as a result of ISC activities.

Remediation and Regulatory Closure of a Former Paper Mill
A former paper-manufacturing site operating as a mill for over 100 years was the focus of hazardous waste remediation and regulatory closure activities. The turnkey project , conducted with a multidisciplinary team established at the outset, provided all services required to reach regulatory closure including: identification and coordination of all permitting activities; regulatory negotiations; environmental investigations; risk assessment; remedial design; and site remediation and restoration.

This project focused on the ISC principle that integrated site remediation solutions minimize costs because they are site-specific and based on technologies that optimize the cost-effectiveness of the cleanup process. Consequently, the baseline ecological and human health risk assessments for Alternative Cleanup Criteria documentation resulted in successful negotiations for specific risk-based alternate clean-up standards, achieving a $165,000 cost saving for the client.

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