An Approach for Balancing Health and Ecological Risks at Hazardous Waste Sites



Human health and ecological risks must be balanced at hazardous waste sites in order to ensure that remedial actions prevent unacceptable risks of either type. Actions that are designed to protect humans may fail to protect nonhuman populations and ecosystems or may damage ecosystems. However, there is no common scale of health and ecological risk that would allow comparisons to be performed. This paper presents an approach to addressing this problem based on classifying all risks (i.e., health and ecological risks due contaminants and remediation) as insignificant (de minimis), highly significant (de manifestis), or intermediate. For health risks the classification is based on standard criteria. However, in the absence of national guidance concerning the acceptability of ecological risks, new ecological criteria are proposed based on an analysis of regulatory precedents. Matrices and flow charts are presented to guide the use of these risk categories in remedial decision making. The assessment of mercury contamination of the East Fork Poplar Creek is presented as an example of the implementation of the approach.