January 2010
No. 136


Over Past Five Years, 49 Million People Have Been Drinking Water Contaminated by Elevated Levels of Arsenic, Radioactive Substances, Bacteria in US

The nation’s drinking water is not as clean as one would assume. Violations of the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974 occur routinely with no regulatory repercussions. In analyzing federal data, the New York Times reports that more than 20 percent of the 54,700 water treatment systems in the U.S. have violated provisions of the law over the last five years. As a result, more than 49 million people across the U.S. have been drinking water contaminated by concentrations above the maximum permissible levels of chemicals (such as arsenic), radioactive substances like uranium, and bacteria. In some cases, the study reveals, the illegal contamination continued for years.  The Times points out that fewer than six percent of the water treatment systems violating the law have ever been held accountable.

Safe Drinking Water Act violations have occurred in parts of every state, according to the Times’  analysis of EPA data. In Ramsey, N.J., for example, drinking water tests over the past five years revealed illegal concentrations of arsenic and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), yet no penalties were ever levied. Most of the drinking water violations since 2004 have occurred at water systems serving fewer than 20,000 residents. These systems have fewer resources and less managerial expertise. In some areas of the U.S., EPA data showed that the amount of radium detected in drinking water was 2,000 percent higher than the legal limit.  It is not clear how many people have suffered adverse health effects from the violations. 

Authorities have been hesitant to enforce the law against municipalities, because they are thought to be short on resources.  Local taxpayers would just end up paying the fines. At the same time, experts argue that some water systems won’t come into compliance unless required to do so by court order.

EPA is expected to announce new policies regarding the 54,700 water treatment systems in the U.S. and its enforcement of provisions of the Safe Water Act.


Opportunities for DoD Funding to Demonstrate Cleanup Technologies

Environmental remediation firms have an opportunity to win funding from the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) of the Department of Defense (DoD) to demonstrate innovative, cost-effective environmental and energy technologies that focus on the most urgent environmental requirements of the department.

Beginning in fiscal year 2011, ESTCP will begin funding innovative technology demonstrations that focus on the following topics:   1) Protection and Remediation of Contaminated Groundwater; 2) Military Munitions Detection, Discrimination, and Remediation; and 3) Ecosystem Service Methodologies and Tools for Department of Defense Installations.

The purpose of ESTPC is to move mature environmental science and technology projects through the demonstration and validation phase so that regulators and end-users accept them more rapidly and promising technologies reach the market more quickly. ESTCP funds projects ranging in size from under $100,000 up to $1 million per year.

ESTCP issued a request for pre-proposals on January 7, 2010. The submission deadline for pre-proposals is March 4, 2010. Contracts will be awarded in March 2011 and projects will begin immediately thereafter.

Below is a description of the technology demonstration being sought by ESTCP that is of particular interest to environmental remediation companies:

Protection and Remediation of Contaminated Groundwater

DoD aims at preventing the contamination of groundwater resources. The remediation of groundwater contaminated with chlorinated solvents, energetic compounds, heavy metals, and mixtures of these contaminants is difficult and can be prohibitively expensive, it notes.  “Remedial costs are particularly high at sites where contamination is extensive, but concentrations are low, where dense, non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) is present in the subsurface, where site hydrogeology is complex (e.g., fractured bedrock), or where site conditions require extensive long-term monitoring.”

ESTCP is thus seeking technologies that protect groundwater resources on operational testing and training ranges. “Such technologies may address containment or remediation of contaminants in source areas in which there is a potential transport pathway to groundwater.”  Also of interest are sentinel systems that would provide an early warning of groundwater contamination. Of particular interest are technologies that allow for continued range operation during technology implementation, are deployable over large areas, or can serve to sustain areas subject to continued use.  Contaminants of concern are metals, energetics (RDX, HMX, TNT, DNT, picric acid), propellants such as perchlorate, or mixtures containing these contaminants in soils.

The agency is also seeking in situ remediation technologies to address groundwater contaminated with chlorinated solvents, metals, energetic compounds, emerging contaminants, or mixtures of these contaminants and cost-effective management tools or technologies to specifically address DNAPL source zones that cause persistent groundwater plumes. In  addition, it is interested in the characterization or remediation of vapors that emanate from contaminated groundwater; the development of methodologies for improving our assessment and operation of validated technologies for in situ remediation of contaminated groundwater; and the characterization, optimization, and/or long-term monitoring tools related to remediation of contaminated groundwater.

When applicable, environmental companies submitting proposals should consider green and sustainable remediation (such as energy efficiency, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and water resource protection) within the context of in situ remediation of contaminated groundwater.

For more information, see

Director of ESTCP to Conduct Webinar January 15 Explaining Funding Opportunities

ESTCP Director Dr. Jeffrey Marqusee will conduct an online seminar “ESTCP Funding Opportunities” on January 15, 2010, from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EST. This “how to play” briefing, according to ESTCP, will offer valuable information for those who are interested in new funding opportunities within ESTCP. Participants in the webinar may ask questions about the funding process, the current ESTCP solicitation, and the proposal submission process. Pre-registration for this webinar is required. To register, visit  If you have any difficulties registering, contact Jonathan Bunger in the ESTCP Office, Email:  or Tel: 703-696-2126.

See the ESTCP website for details:

SERDP Project of the Year Winners Use Natural and Engineered Plants to Degrade, Contain RDX and TNT on Ranges 

Dr. Jerald L. Schnoor of the University of Iowa won a SERDP Project of the Year Award at the recent Department of Defense (DoD) “Partners in Environmental Technology Technical Symposium & Workshop” in Washington, D.C.  His subject of research was “Phytoremediation for the Containment and Treatment of Energetic and Propellant Material on Testing and Training Ranges.”  He used natural plants in his study.  He notes that “phytoremediation may be the most appropriate way to treat energetic compounds such as RDX, HMX and TNT that contaminate many military testing ranges. Plants and associated bacteria have been shown to degrade these compounds to innocuous end products either through uptake and transformation in stems and leaves, or through degradation in the rhizosphere.” 

Dr. Neil C. Bruce of the University of York, York, UK  won a SERDP Project of the Year Award for his work on “Engineering Transgenic Grasses for In Situ Treatment of RDX and TNT.”  He explains that explosives used on live-fire military training ranges have severely contaminated land and groundwater.  RDX is resistant to degradation and is highly mobile through soils and groundwater.  It has become a significant threat to a number of drinking water sources, such as those near the Massachusetts Military Reservation.  There are no cost-effective processes at present to contain RDX or remediate large areas of contaminated vegetated land on training ranges. The objective of Bruce’s research is “to engineer perennial grass species for the phytoremediation of RDX from soil leachate to prevent contamination of groundwater on military training ranges.” He is investigating the expression in perennial grasses of microbial enzymes that degrade explosives. 

In making the awards, SERDP says, “The findings from these projects provide the molecular insight and knowledge needed to make more effective and efficient use of phytoremediation on military training and testing ranges.”

Use of Amendments for Contaminated Sediments

Traditional techniques to cap contaminated sediments do not reduce contaminant mass. It has been demonstrated that with the use of amendments, however, sediment capping technologies can both sequester and degrade contaminants in situ.

Stephen Ells of EPA’s Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation discussed regulatory issues involved in the use of amendments in sediment caps at Superfund sites at the recent DoD Partners in Environmental Technology Technical Symposium & Workshop.

He points out that there are only three technologies in use today for contaminated sediments: capping, dredging and monitored natural attenuation (MNR). The cost of treating contaminated sediments is staggeringly high: $650 million to clean up a segment of the Fox River site, for example, and $74 million for the Portland Harbor site, including EPA oversight costs. Approximately 50 Superfund sediment sites are under investigation today. No decision has been made so far regarding remedial action at these sites.  Therefore, they present an opportunity to use new technologies. EPA guidance on sediment remediation states that there is no presumptive remedy for contaminated sediment sites regardless of contaminant or level of risk.  The focus of all remedies is not mass removal but the reduction of risks. One must understand site conditions most conducive to dredging, capping and MNR. The guidance  includes in situ treatment, such as reactive caps and additives, as an available alternative. Thus, Ells concludes, there is no roadblock against in-situ amendments.

A key measure of the success of in-situ amendments is their long-term effectiveness, and there are no data available yet.

Ells notes the potential benefits of amendments:

  1. Can be used in conjunction with dredging, MNR and capping.

  2. Can be used in locations where dredging is not feasible—under piers and around pilings.

  3. Less impact on benthos than dredging or thick isolation capping.

  4. Minimum impact on flooding potential.

  5. Quicker than standard capping.

  6. Cheaper than current capping.  There is not a great deal of data, but amendments are at least not more expensive than current capping.  They are much cheaper than dredging.

  7. If amendments are not effective in the long-term, not much is lost if one switches to other treatments.

Potential barriers to the use of amendments include the following:

  1. Bias against any remedy other than removal.

  2. Limited track record.  No one wants to be first.

  3. No data on long-term effectiveness.

  4. Fear and uncertainty about adding unnatural materials to the environment.

Are we ready to embrace the use of amendments to remediate contaminated sediments?  Ells says he is not sure, but he is cautiously optimistic. He points out that more long-term monitoring is necessary. 

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Request for Proposals

EPA is issuing a request for proposals (RFP) from eligible entities for grants and cooperative agreements to be awarded under part of the $475 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This RFP, in conjunction with other funding opportunities under the Initiative, will be used to provide funding competitively to eligible entities to address the most significant Great Lakes ecosystem problems and efforts in five major focus areas: (1) toxic substances and areas of concern (pollution prevention and cleanup), (2) invasive species, (3) nearshore health and nonpoint source pollution, (4) habitat and wildlife protection and restoration, and (5) accountability, education, monitoring, evaluation, communication, and partnerships. Expected number of awards: 300. Estimated total program funding: $120,000,000. This opportunity is named “U.S. EPA Funding Opportunity EPA-R5-GL2010-1, 2009.”  Its closing date is January 29, 2010.  See:  


Australia – Paperlinx to Close Two Mills, Extensive Remediation Required

Paperlinx is closing its Wesley Vale paper mill in northwest Tasmania. It hopes to sell a portion of its Burnie mill, also located in Tasmania, and close the remaining parts by next June. The Burnie mill produces carbon-neutral photocopy paper.  Paperlinx expects the closure of the two mills to cost the company approximately A$170 million. That will include the cost of site remediation and the expense of breaking contracts. The government reportedly expects that remediation costs at Burnie will be massive due to high levels of mercury contamination.

India – Bhopal Toxic Gas Released 25 Years Ago, Still No Cleanup

On December 3, 1984, approximately 40 metric tons of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas was released into the atmosphere from the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal and was carried by wind to the nearby slums.  According to the Indian government, 3,500 people died from the accident.  Activists contend that 25,000 people died both at the time of the accident and in subsequent years and that some 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas are still suffering today.

The Indian research firm Center for Science and Environment (CSE) of New Delhi sampled soil and groundwater at the abandoned plant and its vicinity last October and found the entire area highly contaminated.  Samples around the factory site, for example, revealed concentrations of chlorinated benzene compounds and organochlorine pesticides in groundwater at levels 561 times higher than national standards.  At a distance of 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the plant, groundwater samples were found to contain toxic chemicals at concentrations 38.6 times higher than the maximum permissible level.

Activists and lawyers representing the affected people in nearby slums say that after the accident, Union Carbide carried out an ineffective effort at site remediation and built a massive landfill. They point to thousands of tons of toxic chemical waste improperly stored inside and outside the factory site. The waste has been seeping into the ground and groundwater for years, sickening nearby residents, they say.

Union Carbide paid $470 million to the Indian government for the Bhopal victims in 1989.  Dow Chemical says that it bought Union Carbide in 1998, long after Union Carbide had settled its liabilities to the Indian government, which assumed both control of the Bhopal site and responsibility for cleanup. The government, for its part, points to a number of studies it has commissioned that find no evidence of pollution at Bhopal. 


ASCARCO Pays EPA Record $1.79 Billion for Cleanup of 80 Contaminated Sites in 19 States

The American Smelting and Refining Company LLC (ASARCO), a leading producer of copper and one of the largest nonferrous metal producers in the U.S., has signed a bankruptcy settlement with EPA according to which it will pay the agency $1.79 billion for the cleanup of 80 contaminated ASARCO properties in 19 states. The company filed for bankruptcy in August 2005, in what EPA describes as the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history. ASARCO was  purchased out of bankruptcy by Grupo Mexico, the largest mining corporation in Mexico, in December 2009. 

Several of the contaminated ARSARCO sites to be remediated are listed on the Superfund National Priorities List.  According to EPA, the cleanups together will involve 10.5 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and 5 million cubic yards of contaminated water.

New Jersey To Receive $30 Million to Clean Up Contaminated ASARCO Sites

More than $30 million will be paid to New Jersey to clean up formerly-owned ASARCO properties in New Jersey, as a result of state legal claims settled in the bankruptcy reorganization of the international mining company.

The former ASARCO sites to be addressed are the following:

  1. A 100-acre property in Perth Amboy, Middlesex County.  Nearly one-half ($13.8 million) of the $30 million to be paid for remediation of former ASARCO sites in New Jersey will be spent to clean up the Perth Amboy property. Some $2.3 million will be paid to compensate for past remediation costs.  Contaminants of concern are arsenic, antimony and lead. Both soil and groundwater on the property are contaminated. ASARCO will pay an additional $250,000 for natural resource damages at the Perth Amboy site. As part of a settlement between ASARCO and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection ( DEP), $100,000 of the $250,000 paid for natural resource damages at the Perth Amboy site will be spent on site remediation.

  2. A 7,000-acre property spanning parts of Manchester and Berkeley Townships and Lakehurst borough in Ocean County. Of the total $30 million to be paid to New Jersey, $14.1 million will be spent on cleaning up this property which was contaminated by mining waste from ASARCO operations and the  mining of minerals from dredged sand. Mining operations and the stockpiling of mining waste concentrated contaminants. Fuel spills have contaminated soil. Contaminants of concern include low-level, naturally-occurring radioactive minerals such as uranium and thorium.

  3. The ASARCO property in South Plainfield, Middlesex County. Groundwater is contaminated by arsenic, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethylene. The NJ DEP will receive more than $1 million for natural resource damages at the South Plainfield site.

Sierra Club Petitions EPA to Halt New Jersey’s Program Allowing Private Consultants to Oversee Remediation of Contaminated Sites   

EPA has received a petition from the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club to stop New Jersey from implementing its Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) program, which allows environmental consultants or engineers to oversee the cleanup of contaminated sites. The program was created to speed cleanup of the state’s backlog of 20,000 polluted sites. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that 300 professionals have already been approved to oversee cleanups since November 2009 when the program began operating.  DEP expects the permanent rule structure of the LSRP program to be proposed by the spring of 2010 and finalized approximately one year after that.

The petition warns that public health is at risk because there will be less government oversight to insure that cleanups are thorough. The licensed site professional plan just gives more power to private consultants to operate without oversight, according to Jeff Tittel of the NJ Sierra Club.

EPA Takes Steps to Develop Regulations Requiring Three More Industries to Provide Financial Assurance that They Can Clean Up Their Sites, If Need Be

EPA has announced that it will begin the process to develop regulations for three more industrial sectors regarding their financial obligations, if required, to clean up their contaminated sites. The first sector to be addressed was the hard-rock mining industry.  Last July, EPA assigned it highest priority as the agency began the regulatory process to establish requirements that companies provide financial assurance that they will be able to clean up their sites.  In the U.S. there are 200,000 to more than 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines (those extracting minerals like gold, silver, platinum and copper, as opposed to coal) on public and private lands.

The new target sectors are the chemical manufacturing industry; the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry, which includes mainly refineries and not coal mines; and the electric power generation, transmission and distribution industry.  

The purpose of the EPA measure is to ensure that owners and operators of polluting facilities can pay for cleanup and thereby reduce the amount that federal taxpayers pay through the Superfund program.

EPA  plans to study additional sectors to determine if there is a need to develop regulations. They are waste management and remediation services, wood product manufacturing, fabricated metal product manufacturing, electronics and electrical equipment manufacturing and facilities engaged in the recycling of materials containing CERCLA hazardous substances.

Background on mining:  The General Mining Law of 1872, which is still in force, declares mining to be the best use of public land. It does not mention the environment or responsibility for cleanup. There is no requirement for remediation. U.S. mining companies can simply shut down a mine and walk away. The Mineral Policy Center (MPC) of Washington, D.C. estimates the cost of cleanup in the U.S. alone to be between $32 billion and $72 billion

The U.S. Center for Science in Public Participation estimates that 95 percent of operating mines in the U.S. have failed to develop plans addressing the serious environmental consequences of mine closure.


Energy Invest Group to Purchase Terra-Kleen Remediation Process of Sonic  Technology Solutions for $1.5 Million

Energy Invest Group Ltd. (EIG) of London, UK will buy  the Terra-Kleen remediation process of Sonic Technology Solutions Inc. of Vancouver, B.C., Canada for $1.5 million plus future royalties. The Terra-Kleen remediation process removes organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from soil and other waste materials.  Sonic president and CEO Richard Wadsworth says that the sale will allow his company to focus on the development and commercialization of its PetroSonic heavy oil upgrading business. EIG, with its international client base and its other environmental technologies, will be in a better position to win projects and generate revenue, a percentage of which will be shared by Sonic, according to Wadsworth.