Use of ecological risk data in the development of visions, conceptual site models and maps for Department of Energy Lands: Ensuring sustainability of protecting human and ecological health

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Recent interest in understanding the human and ecological health risks of contaminants on lands in the United States has led some managers and public policy makers to use extensive narratives associated with maps and Conceptual Site Models (CSM) in their Vision statements. While narratives are descriptive, CSMs can graphically depict the sources, releases, transport and exposure pathways, and receptors, together with possible barriers to block pathways and reduce exposure. In most situations, vision statements and CSMs are developed for one site, providing no opportunity to understand how they function generally. This paper reviews a set of 31 Vision statements and CSMs developed for Department of Energy (DOE) sites to examine the use and importance of ecological data in the process. This analysis provides a framework for evaluating ecological resources and risk at contaminated sites generally. While data on human health risks were usually extensive, data on specific ecological receptors were sparse. Less than 70% of the sites mentioned endangered or threatened species, less than 40% provided even partial species lists for their sites, and less than 40% provided information on unique habitats. Almost no sites mapped the distribution of endangered/threatened species. Ecological receptors were treated as a class, without regard to whether they were terrestrial or aquatic, or sedentary or migratory. Only 29% of the sites referred to specific ecological risk assessments. Confusion existed with respect to routes of exposure, pathways of exposure, and media for exposure. Overall, the ecological information presented was not consistent across sites, making it difficult to compare ecological resources at risk, effects of remediation on ecological resources complex-wide, or to determine which resources were most important to protect if monetary resources are limited. One of the objectives of DOE in having sites develop these Vision statements was to achieve uniformity in information available for the public, managers, policy-makers, and decision-makers. Any variances from previously agreed-upon remediation will likewise require this detailed ecological information. The dataset indicates a clear need to delineate the key ecological information required for these stakeholders before effective decisions can be made across a wide complex of contaminated sites, and a list of potential indicators is suggested. This ecological information can be both qualitative and quantitative. Finally, the information developed for Vision statements (CSMs, maps) will be useful in ensuring continued human and ecological protection, and will contribute to the sustained safety of remaining contamination on sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)691-707
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Environmental Planning and Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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