States See Public Involvement as Key in Munitions Cleanups

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State environmental regulators have published a new report emphasizing the importance of community involvement in munitions cleanups to ensure safety and often to reduce cleanup costs. The report, published last month by the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO), also discusses the challenges to states including the inability to independently verify military investigations of contamination.

“Local communities should be an integral part of the community involvement and decision-making process because they are directly affected by actions related to the management and cleanup of munitions response sites,” the report affirms. “If done correctly, public involvement at munitions response sites could result in noticeable cost savings.”

The majority of munitions response sites are current or former Department of Defense (DOD) facilities. As of Fiscal Year 2009, there were 3,783 contaminated explosives and ordnance sites in the United States and its territories.

“States depend upon DOD to do a thorough site history, including records research and interviews with former staff and local communities. Knowledge of a site’s history is very important in determining the appropriate cleanup work. If a state suspects that the DOD’s site history report is incomplete, states rarely have the resources to independently verify the adequacy of DOD’s investigation,” the report finds.

The potential threat from unique emerging contaminants at munitions sites, such as tungsten, perchlorate and trinitrotoluene (TNT), is also a challenge for states. Emerging contaminants are substances with potential health risks for which either no current standards exist or the standards are changing.

“Because the toxicity of the contaminants may be highly debated, it is both challenging to communicate the potential risk to the community and to reach agreement with the DOD on necessary response actions,” the report says.

ASTSWMO is an organization supporting the environmental agencies of U.S. states and territories. Its mission is to enhance and promote effective state and territorial programs for waste and materials management, to encourage environmentally sustainable practices and to affect relevant national waste and materials management policies.

The complete report titled Community Involvement Guidance for Munitions Response Sites is available online at http://www.astswmo.org/files/publications/federalfacilities/2011.01_FINAL_CI_MMRP_Paper.pdf

Photo: Vieques Island, Puerto Rico courtesy of ASTSWMO.

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