Expanding tools and perspectives to include ecosystem service concepts in Superfund site management decisions

April 17, 2024

Speaker: Leah Sharpe (US Environmental Protection Agency)

Abstract:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund program is responsible for the assessment, cleanup, and reuse of some of the most contaminated sites in the United States. The primary goal of Superfund work is to protect human health and the environment and the work itself is regulatorily and legislatively proscribed. While the concept of ecosystem services (ES; i.e., the benefits that humans receive from nature) is not a part of Superfund processes, the EPA identified potential connections between ES concepts and remediation and redevelopment of contaminated sites in 2009 and has been applying those concepts in cleanups for over a decade. In addition to regulatory hurdles, the organizational separation of those developing ES tools and those responsible for managing Superfund sites was another challenge to the incorporation of ES concepts in management actions. An ongoing collaboration between tool developers, modelers, risk assessors, and project managers, co-led by researchers focusing on ES tools and risk assessors focused on contaminated site management, has made meaningful progress in incorporating ES concepts and tools in contaminated site cleanup and reuse. These advances include developing generic guidelines for incorporating ES into ecological risk assessments, identifying the value-added aspects provided by incorporation of ES, developing ES tools in response to manager needs, identifying concrete steps to support Superfund staff in effective incorporation of ES tools into their work processes, and conducting multiple case studies as practical demonstrations of this incorporation. This presentation will discuss how this collaboration works, the co-development of decision tools and frameworks, and how the incorporation of ES concepts impacted outcomes in case study examples.