1999 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Tony Chenhansa <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 13:43:39 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: [CPEO-BIF] Response to Allison Tom
Original Message from:
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 17:54:10 -0700
From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>

This is my reply to Allison Tom's question about community participation in
risk analysis at Brownfields sites, with a focus on California. I invite
others to correct or clarify my response.

Cleanup standards for hazardous waste are determined either
from established values or with risk assessments. In general
cleanup goals for groundwater in California are set concentrations for each
contaminant, unless there are reasons - such as saltwater
intrusion - that an aquifer is not consider available for beneficial use.
Cleanup goals for soils and sediments are based on risk assessments, in
which land use scenarios are used to determine exposure pathways. Risk
assessors come up with calculated concentrations for each contaminant,
based upon risk ranges for cancer and a hazard quotient for non-cancer
health endpoints. Where analysis of the fate and transport of contaminants
shows that soil or sediment pollution may affect groundwater, then soil
cleanup goals may be based upon the groundwater goals. Finally, where
ecological resources are threatened, additional cleanup goals may be based
upon risk to organisms or habitat.

I'm not as clear on the current rules for the cleanup of petroleum from
leaking underground storage tanks. A couple of years ago, many agencies
were requiring source removal only, on the assumption that natural
attenuation would achieve cleanup goals. So they didn't
require site-specific analysis. However, since the discovery of MTBE
at many sites, that trend seems to have been reversed.

The key point is that there is actually little official flexibility in the
analysis. I would never rule out the value of organizing neighborhoods to
exert political pressure, but risk analysis and goal-setting is supposed to
be scientific. Communities can influence the selection of the reasonably
anticipated future land use, which is used as the risk assessment scenario.
It need not be the current of next land use. Of course, at sites planned
for schools, urban parks, and housing, unrestricted land use is generally
the scenario.

Community members can also identify exposure pathways. For example, they
may know that people eat fish from a contaminated pond or cove five days a
week, or that children play in the landscaped areas surrounding a factory.
That is essential information for site-specific risk assessment.

The selection of remedies, on the other hand, is subject to public input.
Under the National Contingency Plan, for example, community acceptance is
listed as a criterion for remedy selection. More important, the public can
influence the way that decision-makers from responsible parties and
regulatory agencies weigh the various other criteria - short and long-term
effectiveness, compliance with other environmental rules, cost, etc. - in
selecting a remedy.

In practice, remedy selection feeds back to the development of cleanup
goals, because it is possible to select remedies - at times, it's almost
unavoidable -  that are incapable of reaching those goals.

To give community members a serious chance to influence such cleanup
decisions, I have long advocated the formation of community advisory groups
to represent the neighbors and other public stakeholders at contamination
sites, including Brownfields. Five years ago we won this for federal
facilities, and EPA has formed several at private Superfund sites. With the
passage  of the new California State
Superfund law earlier this year, Cal-EPA (Department of Toxic Substances
Control) is now authorized to support the formation of Community Advisory
Groups at state-led sites. In communities with several small contamination
sites, I have proposed the formation of area-wide advisory bodies.

Advisory groups give the public the opportunity to learn
about contaminated sites, to provide input to the risk assessment
process, and to help select remedies. The key is not any particular risk
analysis algorithm. Rather the public needs to be engaged early and often,
and it needs training and technical assistance to provide
constructive input at each step.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126

To read CPEO's archived Brownfields messages visit

If this email has been forwarded to you and you'd
like to subscribe, please send a message to

Got a Favorite Topic to Discuss?  Start a List at Topica.

  Prev by Date: [CPEO-BIF] Important Brownfields Survey
Next by Date: [CPEO-BIF] Environmental Justice Book Published
  Prev by Thread: [CPEO-BIF] Important Brownfields Survey
Next by Thread: [CPEO-BIF] Environmental Justice Book Published

CPEO Lists
Author Index
Date Index
Thread Index