Approaches for assessing hazards and risks to workers and the public from contaminated land

Michael Gochfeld, Joanna Burger, Barry Friedlander, Charles Powers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Many public agencies and private entities are faced with assessing the risks to humans from contamination on their lands. The United States Department of Energy (US DOE) and Department of Defense are responsible for large holdings of contaminated land and face a long-term and costly challenge to assure sustainable protectiveness. With increasing interest in the conversion of brownfields to productive uses, many former industrial properties must also be assessed to determine compatible future land uses. In the United States, many cleanup plans or actions are based on the Comprehensive Environmental Responsibility, Compensation, and Liability Act, which provides important but incomplete coverage of these issues, although many applications have tried to involve stakeholders at multiple steps. Where there is the potential for exposure to workers, the public, and the environment from either cleanup or leaving residual contamination in place, there is a need for a more comprehensive approach to evaluate and balance the present and future risk(s) from existing contamination, from remediation actions, as well as from postremediation residual contamination. This article focuses on the US DOE, the agency with the largest hazardous waste remediation task in the world. Presented is a framework extending from preliminary assessment, risk assessment and balancing, epidemiology, monitoring, communication, and stakeholder involvement useful for assessing risk to workers and site neighbors. Provided are examples of those who eat fish, meat, or fruit from contaminated habitats. The US DOE’s contaminated sites are unique in a number of ways: (1) huge physical footprint size, (2) types of waste (mixed radiation/chemical), and (3) quantities of waste. Proposed future land uses provide goals for remediation, but since some contamination is of a type or magnitude that cannot be cleaned up with existing technology, this in turn constrains future land use options, requiring an iterative approach. The risk approaches must fit a range of future land uses and end-states from leave-in-place to complete cleanup. This will include not only traditional risk methodologies, but also the assessment and surveillance necessary for stewards for long-term monitoring of risk from historic and future exposure to maintain sustainable protectiveness. Because of the distinctiveness of DOE sites, application of the methodologies developed here to other waste site situations requires site-specific evaluation

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-57
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering


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