U.S. EPA Contaminated Site Cleanup Information (CLU-IN)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division

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Ecological reuse returns polluted or otherwise disturbed lands to a functioning and sustainable use by increasing or improving habitat for plants and animals. "Ecological land reuse" is a broad term that encompasses a number of interrelated activities including the reconstruction of antecedent physical conditions, chemical adjustment of the soil and water, and biological manipulation which includes the reintroduction of native flora and fauna.
International Year of Soils in 2015

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is one of many organizations across the world that will celebrate International Year of Soils in 2015. The United Nations General Assembly designated 2015 for the yearlong soils celebration as a way to increase understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions. NRCS will work with the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and other partners to showcase the importance of soil with monthly themes created by SSSA. November's theme is: Soils and Climate. Several videos and other resources are available. Please see the Ecotools Soil Science page for more information on soils.
EPA and Partners Launch Challenge to Recycle Nutrients from Livestock Waste

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pork and dairy producers, and environmental and scientific experts to launch the Nutrient Recycling Challenge, a competition to develop affordable technologies that recycle nutrients from livestock waste. Livestock producers manage more than one billion tons of manure a year, which contains valuable nutrients that plants need to grow. During the four-phase competition, innovators will turn their concepts into designs and eventually into working technologies that livestock farms will use in pilot projects. Phase I, which begins Nov. 16 and ends Jan. 15, calls for papers outlining ideas for these technologies. For more information: www.nutrientrecyclingchallenge.org.
Incorporating Natural Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services in Federal Decision-Making

On October 7, 2015, the White House released a memorandum directing Federal agencies to factor the value of ecosystem services into Federal planning and decision-making. The memorandum directs agencies to develop and institutionalize policies that promote consideration of ecosystem services in planning, investment, and regulatory contexts. It also establishes a process for the Federal government to develop a more detailed guidance on integrating ecosystem-service assessments into relevant programs and projects to help maintain ecosystem and community resilience, sustainable use of natural resources, and the recreational value of the Nation's unique landscapes. Also, be sure to visit the EcoTools Ecosystem Services page.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal

In October, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 30 black-footed ferrets on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA) Wildlife Refuge, located in Denver on a former Superfund site. These ferrets joined more than 330 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish on this wildlife sanctuary. The RMA was once contaminated with wastes from the production of chemical warfare agents and pesticides. The former Superfund site became a wildlife refuge in 2010, after a $2.1 billion cleanup.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world — the Great Lakes. During FY15 – 19, federal agencies, including EPA, will continue to use the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative resources to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and to accelerate progress toward long term goals for this important ecosystem.
Nature study finds that bees prefer foods containing neonicotinoid pesticides

A study conducted by scientists at Newcastle University, Trinity College Dublin, and University of Oxford has found that bees are attracted to nectar containing common pesticides. The research, published in Nature, showed that buff-tailed bumblebees and honeybees did not avoid the three most commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin. The study found that the bees could not taste neonicotinoids, and in fact, showed a preference for food containing pesticides. The findings have implications for bee behavior and survival due to the beesí inability to control exposure to these pesticides, and suggest that treating crops with certain neonicotinoids presents a hazard to these pollinating insects.

Why restore disturbed or contaminated lands?

Habitat preservation is key to an ecosystem's health and well-being, and there is a growing awareness that restoration is essential to recover ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed. Furthermore, contaminated or disturbed sites that have been restored are once again available for public use and enjoyment

The public's interest in the renewal of natural ecosystems has grown steadily during the past few decades. EPA's Superfund Redevelopment Program assists communities in returning some of the nation's worst hazardous waste sites to safe and productive uses. While the Agency works to protect human health and the environment, EPA also works with communities and other partners to consider future uses for restored Superfund sites. Many sites are now being used as parkland, agricultural land, residences and commercial space.

Ecological reuse can be incorporated into site remediation plans for Superfund sites because it provides habitat for wildlife and is not considered beautification or enhancement. Returning contaminated sites to beneficial use not only allows local communities to reclaim lost land – it can also lead to increased property values, a higher tax base, and protected open space. In addition, when local interests have a stake in the revitalized property, the chances are greater for continued productive use.

Benefits of Ecological Land Reuse

  • Provides wildlife habitat
  • Sequesters carbon
  • Remediates and beneficially reuses damaged lands
  • Improves property values
  • Improves image
  • Reduces wind and water erosion of contaminants
  • Protects water resources
  • Creates green spaces and corridors
  • Improves the community by removing stigma associated with prior waste sites

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Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex (OU2 and 3), Idaho
Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex After
Ecological revitalization, as part of a decades-long cleanup of the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex in Idaho, is creating sustainable ecosystems after more than 100 years of historic commercial mining, milling and smelting operations.
Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Before
Remediated and restored habitat on the Bunker Hill site attracts some of the highest levels of waterfowl usage, feeding and diversity in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin.
Occidental Chemical Corporation, Montague, Michigan RCRA Case Study
Occidental Site in Idaho after
Occidental Site After
Before and after photos show the transformation of a former chemical manufacturing site into thriving wetland, prairie, and woodland habitat. The closure of Occidental Chemical Corporation facility in Montague, Michigan in 1983 left behind soil and groundwater contaminated with chlorinated organic chemicals.
Occidental Site in Idaho before
Occidental Site Before

Why are ecosystems important to ecological land reuse?

Project managers seeking to return a contaminated site to a safe and productive use should look not only to the future of the site; but also consider its past structure and function by looking at the site as an ecosystem – a dynamic environment of living organisms and non-living matter intricately connected by energy and nutrient flows.

Many reuse projects focus solely on manipulating certain elements, such as soil, vegetation, and hydrology, with little attention paid to the links between these and the broader landscape and biosphere. Such actions may not necessarily address all of the ecosystem's needs. Other living organisms, such as insects, wildlife, and microorganisms also form an integral part of the system and must be accounted for, if possible, for the system to flourish. For example: many of the native flowering plant species in the United States rely on bees, hummingbirds or other pollinators to help them reproduce and disperse across the landscape. The flowers and the hummingbird have a symbiotic relationship that benefits them both – the flower produces nectar that the hummingbird feeds on, and the hummingbird carries pollen from one flower to the next, allowing it to reproduce. If a degraded site is repopulated with native wildflowers, but no pollinators are introduced into the site, the native plants may die out and be replaced by invasive species. In order to maintain desired levels of native plant diversity, the restoration and reuse process therefore must ensure that an adequate level of pollinator species is present.

Ecosystem-based reuse can be an important aspect of many remediation projects. If the goal is to return a site to a close approximation of its natural, pre-disturbance state, then an ecosystem-based approach is essential. This approach will ensure that the newly restored site once again becomes an integral part of its environment. More information can be found here: Climate Change and Ecosystems.

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