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Cleanup of Most Challenging U.S. Contaminated Groundwater Sites Unlikely for Many Decades

November 16, 2012

Cleanup of Most Challenging U.S. Contaminated Groundwater Sites Unlikely for Many Decades

Source: National Research Council

At least 126,000 sites across the U.S. have contaminated groundwater that requires remediation, and about 10 percent of these sites are considered "complex," meaning restoration is unlikely to be achieved in the next 50 to 100 years due to technological limitations, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report adds that the estimated cost of complete cleanup at these sites ranges from $110 billion to $127 billion, but the figures for both the number of sites and costs are likely underestimates.

Several national and state groundwater cleanup programs developed over the last three decades under various federal and state agencies aim to mitigate the human health and ecological risks posed by underground contamination. These programs include cleanup at Superfund sites; facilities that treat, store, and dispose of hazardous wastes; leaking underground storage tanks; and federal facilities, such as military installations. The U.S. Department of Defense has already spent approximately $30 billion in hazardous waste remediation to address past legacies of its industrial operations. DOD sites represent approximately 3.4 percent of the total active remediation sites, but many of these sites present the greatest technical challenges to restoration with very high costs. Therefore, the agency asked the National Research Council to examine the future of groundwater remediation efforts and the challenges facing the U.S. Army and other responsible agencies as they pursue site closures.

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