Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Risk to ecological resources following remediation can be due mainly to increased resource value of successful restoration: a case study from the Department of Energy's Hanford Site.

Abstract

Many nations are faced with the need to remediate large contaminated sites following World War II, the Cold War, and abandoned industrial sites, and to return them to productive land uses. In the United States, the Department of Energy (DOE) has the largest cleanup challenge, and its Hanford Site in the state of Washington has the most extensive and most expensive cleanup task. Ideally, the risk to ecological resources on remediation sites is evaluated before, during, and after remediation, and the risk from, or damage to, ecological resources from contaminants should be lower following remediation. In this paper, we report the risk to ecological resources before, during, and as a consequence of remediation on contaminated units requiring cleanup, and then examine the causes for changes in risk by evaluating 56 cleanup evaluation units (EUs) at the Hanford Site. In this case, remediation includes a restoration phase. In general, the risk to ecological and eco-cultural resources is currently not discernible or low at most contaminated units, increases during remediation, and decreases thereafter. Remediation often causes physical disruption to ecosystems as it reduces the risk from exposure to contaminants. Most new remediation projects at the Hanford Site include ecological restoration. Ecological restoration results in the potential for the presence of higher quality resources after remediation than currently exists on these contaminated lands and facilities. Although counter-intuitive, our evaluation of the risk to ecological resources following remediation indicated that a significant percentage of units (61%) will be at increased risk in the post-remediation period. This increased risk is due to DOE's successful remediation and restoration that results in a higher percent of native vegetation and higher ecological value on the sites in the post-remediation period than before. These newly-created resources can then be at risk from post-remediation activities. Risks to these new higher quality resources include the potential for spread of invasive species and of noxious grasses used in previous cleanup actions, disruption of ecosystems (including those with state or federally listed species and unique ecosystems), compaction of soil, use of pesticides to control invasive species, and the eventual need for continued monitoring activities. Thus, by greatly improving the existing habitat and health of eco-receptors, and maintaining habitat corridors between high quality habitats, the ecological resources in the post-remediated units are at risk unless care is taken to protect them. Many of the negative effects of both remediation and future monitoring (or other future land uses) can be avoided by planning and management early in the remediation process. We suggest DOE and other agencies convene a panel of managers, remediation scientists, regulators, environmental and ecological scientists, Native Americans, economists, and the public to develop a generic list of performance metrics for the restoration phase of remediation, including evaluation of success, which could be applied across the DOE complex.