Incorporating sediment stability within the management of contaminated sediment sites: A synthesis approach



At the Third International Conference on Remediation of Contaminated Sediments, a panel discussion was held to consider how best to incorporate sediment stability assessment (SSA) results when managing risks at contaminated sediment sites. This remains a challenge to the scientific and regulatory community, especially at sites where large volumes of legacy sediment are present below layers of recent sediment of better quality, and where in-place management may be viable. Use of a suite of empirical and predictive approaches collectively to assess potential risks resulting from bed erosion has emerged as the state-of-the-art approach for SSA, yet current practice lacks consistent guidance for conducting such assessments and for dealing with and communicating implications of uncertainty. The regulatory community lacks a decision-making framework that specifically incorporates SSA results, though it is a consideration in US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA 2002) Principles for Sediment Management. Practitioners have not consistently communicated SSA results from a risk perspective to the stakeholder community. We believe this combination of factors, especially the inconsistent framing of results in a risk context, has contributed to discounted use of sediment stability information in decision making, fostering application of the precautionary principle, where removal is viewed as a presumed conservative but more expensive approach over in-place management options. We assert that the incorporation of SSA in decision making will be improved through the use of a consistent SSA assessment framework built around the conceptual site model, incorporating multiple lines of evidence detailing the potential impacts of large, low-probability events (e.g., the 100-y storm) on exposure and risk, and the associated uncertainties. Further advocacy of this approach was realized through panel-audience discussion at the conference. The technical methods discussed are not new; rather, it is the synthesis approach emphasized here, which by providing a framework for the systematic evaluation of how SSA is best addressed from site to site, makes the results of SSA efforts more accessible and acceptable to stakeholders and decision makers.