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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Seedling
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.
Ecosystem Services at Contaminated Site Cleanups

EPA recently released an issue paper on Ecosystem Services at Contaminated Site Cleanups. The purpose of this issue paper is to provide cleanup site teams with information about ecosystem services. These concepts and tools are useful in communicating the positive results of cleanup in addition to achieving the goals of cleanup. Information about ecosystem services may be considered in characterization of future land use options or design of a cleanup that is consistent with anticipated ecological reuse, depending on the regulatory authority of the cleanup program.
Ecological Revitalization in the Black River Area of Concern

The Black River Area of Concern in northern Ohio was designated by EPA in response to pollution caused by discharges from industrial operations that contaminated river sediments and severely impacted aquatic habitats and fish communities.Since 2010, over $23.5 million in funding provided by the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has been used to carry out 20 projects to remediate and restore this area of concern. These projects have led to habitat restoration both in the water and along the river bank.
EPA and the State of Colorado release proposed plans for environmental cleanup at Eagle Mine Superfund Site

A recent EPA news release describes two proposed plans, released by EPA and the State of Colorado, for environmental remediation at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site. Both proposed plans focus on reducing heavy metal contamination in the soil and future reuse of the site.
New Ecological Revitalization of Contaminated Sites Case Study

EPA recently published a new Ecological Revitalization of Contaminated Sites Case Study highlighting the cleanup and restoration activities at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant Fly Ash Superfund site in Tennessee.
Barriers, Opportunities, and Strategies for Urban Ecosystem Restoration: Lessons Learned from Restoration Managers in Rhode Island, U.S.A.

Urban ecosystem restoration can be especially difficult to accomplish because of complications like industrial pollutants, population density, infrastructure, and expense; however, the unique opportunities in urban settings can make urban restoration especially rewarding. The success of urban restoration projects - even those focused primarily on ecological targets - depends on incorporating the findings of social research, though that research is relatively rare. This EPA Report attempts to fill that gap by presenting barriers, opportunities, and strategies for restoration projects in urban settings. Building from interviews with restoration managers involved in a suite of aquatic restoration projects in Rhode Island, the report contributes to the learning axis of adaptive management by identifying and synthesizing the lessons learned from managers' work in urban settings.
National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative Releases Online Tool to Aid Native Plant Selection

NatiVeg is a remote, Internet-based tool that works on desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Developed by NBCI and University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture Information Technology Service and beta-tested by a variety of outside reviewers, NatiVeg is a database that, within the 25-state initiative's range (mid-west and southeast), delivers the proper native plant choices for a specific location and the user's specific purposes, whether wildlife, forage, biomass, pollinators, critical area planting, restoration or soil conservation.

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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