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Hazardous wastes: who's cleaning up?

Love Canal in New York and Times Beach in Missouri share a sad distinction. Their names have become synonymous with an ominous phrase that has burned its way into our national consciousness-hazardous waste. These two towns lived a toxic nightmare and died because of it. The wastes dumped in these communities years ago returned to haunt them and transform them into ghost towns.

Eight out of ten Americans, more than 190 million people, live near a source of toxic waste or a toxic waste dump. These wastes include materials linked to cancer, heart attacks, hypertension, and neurological disease.

Cleaning up these poisons presents formidable challenges. Problems that were decades in the making will take decades to resolve at a cost of many billions of dollars. One congressional study forecasts that cleanup will cost $300 billion over the next 50 years.

Cleanup is underway. Federal efforts are expanding; many States are initiating their own programs; and the cleanup industry is booming.

But these efforts entail much more than picking up a broom and a dustpan. The problems demand solutions that are on the cutting edge of applied science and engineering. To assure that this edge is well honed, we need skilled scientists and engineers to design and conduct cleanup operations; good managers and administrators to see that the money is spent wisely; and conscientious community leaders to develop the broad-based support necessary to ensure effective action.

The Programs

Until the early 1970's, few people recognized the dangers posed by hazardous wastes and the toxic chemicals they contain. The old adage, "Out of sight, out of mind," characterized its disposal. We simply discarded these wastes with the rest of the garbage in dumps and landfills around the country. More than 600,000 of these dumps, many long since closed and forgotten, dot the national map. At thousands of these sites, hazardous wastes are contaminating our land, air, and water.

The first national efforts to address hazardous waste contamination arose in 1976. To prevent the creation of new dump sites, Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which required that toxic wastes be disposed of in specially permitted locations. New, tougher amendments were added to the act in 1984.

To clean up uncontrolled sites and to respond to hazardous material emergencies, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Liability and Compensation Act in 1980. This legislation created a 5-year, $1.6 billion "Superfund" to finance cleanup and charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with administering it. Congress reauthorized the Superfund in October 1986, increasing its initial budget more than fivefold to $8.3 billion.

EPA's efforts focus on about 25,000 potentially hazardous sites. Walter Kovalick, deputy director of the Superfund program, says, "Of this total, about 8,000 sites merit closer examination." Personnel from EPA, State agencies, and private contractors conduct site inspections to gather basic environmental data so that the site "can be assessed, scored, and prioritized," says Kovalick. If a site scores high enough, it is placed on the National Priority List (NPL), a roster of the country's most hazardous sites, and scheduled for cleanup.

To earn a spot on this dubious honor roll, a site must score 28.5 out of a possible 100 in the Hazardous Ranking System. These scores reflect the relative potential of the substances present to cause damage, the possible extent of damage, and the speed with which it might occur.

The EPA projects that 2,000 sites may eventually make the list. Others counter that this figure is conservative. The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimates that as many as 10,000 sites are candidates.

The Superfund program is only part of the Federal effort to clean up hazardous materials. Both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have established cleanup programs whose combined costs should at least equal those of the Superfund.

The Department of Defense's Installation Restoration Program will spend nearly $500 million in 1987 to clean up contamination on military installations around the country. A program spokesperson estimates that costs may run to $10 billion for cleanup that will last into the next century. .

Six hundred sites are slated for cleanup by the Department of Energy. Some of these sites contain radioactive wastes dating from the Manhattan Project, the program that led to the development of the first atomic bomb.

Complementing Federal efforts, several States have embarked upon their own cleanup programs. California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York have major programs underway. These efforts focus primarily on sites not included on the National Priority List. Activities in other States willlikely increase as certain provisions under the Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act call for greater participation by the States in hazardous waste cleanup.

While the Federal Government and the States hold responsibility for managing the cleanup programs and conducting much of the initial testing, private contractors generally perform the actual cleanup. The demand for these services is increasing.

"The marketplace is growing, which indicates that companies are reasonably certain of getting a return on their investment," says Richard Fortuna, executive director of the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council. The initial view of the Superfund project as temporary prompted reluctance in many businesses to make the necessary investments in technology and personnel. That perspective has changed. Now, says Fortuna, "Wall Street analysts are predicting about 25-percent growth per annum over the next 5 years."

Douglas Augenthaler, a vice-president and analyst with E.F. Hutton, says, "This business is driven by regulation, so the level of activity depends upon the level of enforcement. The reauthorization of the Superfund, the growth of State programs, and the stiffening of the RCRA sends a clear signal to waste generators to clean up their act." The signals also mean a growing market for skilled professionals to handie the cleanup.

The Cleanup Work Force

In Superfund Strategy, a 1985 assessment of the Superfund program, the Office of Technology Assessment estimated the size of the Superfund-related work force to be 3,500 in 1984. The report projected more than a sixfold increase, to 22,750, by 1995. The study also predicted that more than 90 percent of expected job growth would occur in 18 technical specialties (see box).

The Environmental Protection Agency is actively recruiting many of these specialists and has embarked upon a nationwide campaign to hire more than a thousand employees between 1987 and l989. Many of these employees will be heading towards EPA's hazardous waste programs. Playing a key role in the campaign is Lee Diggs, Director of EPA's Recruitment and Employment Center, who supervises teams of recruiters that crisscross the country.

"Environmental engineers are a top priority," says Diggs, "and so are hydrologists/ hydrogeologists."

To be considered for a position as an environmental engineer at EPA, a candidate 'must possess at least a bachelor of science degree in engineering. A B.S. in geology or earth studies is a prerequisite for a job as a hydrogeologist.

Other Superfund-related positions at EPA include the-following: Physical/ environmental scientist, which requires a B.S. in one of the physical or life sciences; geologist, requiring a B.S. in geology; chemist, requiring a B.S. in chemistry or at least 30 credit hours in the science; chemical engineer-B.S. in chemical engineering; environmental protection specialist-most candidates have at least a B.A. or B.S. degree, but experience may substitute for education.

As Federal workers, EPA employees are paid according to the civil service General Schedule (GS). Employees with a bachelor's degree enter at either the GS-5 level, with a starting salary of $15,118, or the GS-7 level, which pays $18,726. Candidates with a master's degree can start at the GS-9 level and earn $22,907 .

EPA's personnel projections show a near doubling of its Superfund staff, from 863 to 1,695, in a 5-year period from 1984 to 1988. Many States have experienced similar growth in their hazardous waste programs. The California program is a case in point.

The Toxic Substances Control Division of the California Department of Health Services manages cleanup ef"In the last 5 years, the division has grown by leaps and bounds," says Stan Phillipe, Chief of Site Mitigation. "When I started in 1982, we had eight project managers. Now there are more than 100." And in an era of shrinking budgets, the program is growing. While the final figures for the 1988 budget are not yet firm, "it looks as if the division will get a 200-position increase," says Linda Aguas, Chief of Personnel for the division.

The story is the same in other States that have cleanup programs underway. In Michigan, Ron Willson, Chief of Site Management for the State's Department of Natural Resources, says that "we've had about a sixfold increase 'in Superfund staffing since l982." In New Jersey, which has one of the largest State cleanup programs, about 100 new positions have been added annually for the last 4 years.

William Child is manager of Illinois' Division of Land Pollution Control. He says, "In 1980, 1 was the State's Superfund program, and it took about 25 percent of my time. Now we have about 55 people in the program and expect to add more next year."

A large number of Superfund workers at EPA fall into two categories-environmental engineer and environmental protection specialist. In most States, the same general categories exist, although titles may be different. In California, for example, 75 percent of the positions in the Toxic Substances Control Division are classified as either waste management engineer or hazardous material specialist. A bachelor of science degree in the physical/ life sciences or engineering is usually a basic prerequisite for entry level positions. Starting salaries in California range from about $22,000 to $26,000.

While Federal and State officials are charged with managing cleanup programs, most of the actual cleanup work at hazardous waste sites is performed by private companies, as was mentioned earlier. For these enterprises, growth parallels or even exceeds that of public programs.

Roy F. Weston, Inc., is an environmental engineering and consulting firm that is a major Superfund contractor. The company has grown nearly 40 percent a year for the last several years, with much of the increase attributable to hazardous waste activities. Scott Murray, Vice-President for Human Resources at Weston, says that "employment growth has paralleled the growing demand for hazardous waste services. We started 1987 with 1,175 employees. By midsummer, that figure had climbed to 1,600." These increases, he adds, are common throughout the cleanup industry.

At Weston, growth is concentrated in engineering, scientific, and technical positions that closely resemble those in public sector programs. Technicians provide support in the field and the laboratory in a variety of ways. For example, they collect samples, assist in lab analysis, and maintain equipment. A high school degree with a strong natural sciences background, and 3 years of experience are standard requirements. Entry level scientists and engineers at the firm must have at least a bachelor's degree. Starting salaries range from $20,000 to $30,000, depending upon the level of the degree and the technical discipline.

Will Supply Match Demand?

With the reauthorization of the Superfund, the growth of other Federal programs,and the expansion of State cleanup efforts, the demand for experienced people is growing. Competition for these professionals between the public and private sectors is increasing apace. But a persistent question colors this competition. Are there now and will there be in the future enough qualified and experienced people to meet the demand? Some players are already feeling the pinch.

EPA sources say that the agency's recruitment campaign has been generating an enthusiastic response. Where some difficulty arises is in retaining personnel once they gain experience in both the technical aspects of cleanup and the complex array of environmental regulations.

"It's difficult to compete with the private sector," says Ken Dawsey, EPA's Deputy Director for Administration. "Our employment procedures are governed by civil service regulations, and we have no ability to bargain on salary."

If EPA has had trouble meeting its personnel needs, State agencies, whose role under the Superfund reauthorization is expected to grow, may face even greater difficulties. According to the Office of Technology Assessment study, "State agencies have repeatedly testified that they do not have enough qualified personnel to meet their responsibilities under the current program (1984) for identifying and ranking sites, consulting with EPA on site activities and enforcement, and in participating as the lead agency at some sites."

States look to the Federal Government to help finance cleanup, But most of the funds States receive are "soft money," according to Ron Willson, Michigan's site management chief. The money is site-specific, which means that it is directed towards particular projects. It's hard to develop a program and hire the necessary people when the money flow is uncertain.

Anthony Farro, Director of New Jersey's Division of Hazardous Site Mitigation, says that " we look for people with experience, but there is such a crunch of work to be done, and so much competition, that getting people has been a problem."

The reauthorization of the Superfund should lead to exponential growth in positions with the private engineering and consulting firms who perform most of the actual cleanup at hazardous waste sites. Despite the large personnel increases in some companies, such as Weston, there are indications that there may not be enough bodies to go around.

Environmental Recruiting Co-Operative is an Oklahoma company that specializes in recruitment of cleanup personnel. Billy Logue, the company's president, says that firms are recruiting heavily in anticipation of increasing business, but many are not reaching their employment goals. Logue estimates "that demand for experienced cleanup personnel exceeds supply by nearly 40 percent. For people withs kills in the broad field of hazardous materials management, it's a seller's market."

Cleaning Up

A look at the tasks to be performed 'in order to clean up a site shows how many different kinds of workers are needed. There are two levels of response to releases of hazardous material- removal actions and remedial actions. Removal actions are immediate responses to accidents with hazardous materials, such as the spilling of toxic chemicals from a tanker truck. The National Campaign Against Toxic Hazards reports that 12,107 recorded releases of toxic materials occurred in 1986.

Remedial actions are long-term cleanup programs. In essence, a remedial action is designed to remedy two problems the removal of the cause of contamination, such as leaking drums of toxic chemicals, and the decontamination of the soil, surface water, and ground water. The hazardous waste sites on the National Priority List are candidates for remedial action.

A remedial action is a difficult, complex process. No standard solutions exist because no two sites are alike. Sites vary in the kinds of wastes they contain, their geology the kinds of soil that are present, the presence of surface water and ground water, and other features and the prevailing weather conditions. The differences dictate that new solutions be developed for each site.

Though problems and solutions vary at each site, every remedial action follows an established four-step pattern: (1) remedial investigation-a comprehensive investigation of the site to define the extent of the problem; (2) feasibility studies-analyses of the possible cleanup alternatives; (3) remedial designthe design of the remedial action plan and engineering specifications; and (4) remedial construction.

Remedial Investigation

"In the remedial investigation, the full range of scientific and environmental disciplines comes into play," says George Gardner, a program manager with NUS Corporation, a major Superfund contractor. "The information collected during the initial assessment is important, but you need a much more complete picture if a remedy is to be devised," he says.

Making sure that the picture is complete is the role of the project manager. As supervisor of a cleanup, the project manager needs a broad knowledge of environmental regulations, wide experience in site investigation and remediation, and a working knowledge of the related environmental disciplines. Environmental engineers frequently fill this crucial position, according to a management study of EPA'S Superfund work force.

The health and safety officer frequently follows the project manager in the cleanup hierarchy. At EPA, tOxicologists, scientists specially trained in the effects of toxic materials, generally occupy this slot. Industrial hygienists may also fill this role. These professionals are familiar figures in industry, where they monitor the workplace for health and safety threats. George Gardner sees a growing role for them in hazardous waste cleanup.

Understanding the structure and composition of the earth beneath a waste site is crucial to devising an effective cleanup plan. Discovering these underground features is a job for geologists and geophysicists. The supply of geologists appears sufficient to meet cleanup needs, but "geophysicists are in critically short supply," says Ron Willson. Using sophisticated equipment such as magnetometers and ground penetrating radar, geophysicists can "look underground without digging," says Willson. The underground surveys they conduct help identify buried materials and define geological boundaries.

These surveys aid the hydrogeologist in determining the extent of ground water pollution at hazardous waste sites. Water pollution presents the greatest problem atthesesites. Seventy-five percent of the sites on the National Priority List show significant ground water pollution, and 50 percent show measurable surface water contamination. As a consequence, thousands of people across the country now obtain their drinking water from a bottle rather than from the tap.

Assessing ground water contamination requires an understanding of both the geological structures underlying the site and the depth, direction, quality, and speed of the ground water flow. It's not an easy job. Ground water can be affected by various factors. The amount of rainfall, the ebb and flow of tides, and the way the ground water is used may alter its flow.

The hydrogeologist may use a computer to simulate different conditions and effects of these variables and supervise the drilling oftest wells at the site to determine the nature and extent of contamination. Dozens oftest wells pepper hazardous waste sites.

When chemical contamination reaches ground water, the chemicals do not dissipate. A contaminant "plume"develops, and the movement of this body of chemicals can be very different from the normal flow of the ground water. Because of chemical reactions, the plume could flow in the opposite direction from the ground water flow. "Plumes may float on top of the water table, sink to the bottom, flow in the middle of the ground water, or even flow in two directions at once," says George Gardner. "Their flow depends on the types, concentrations, and density of the contaminants." These conditions have prompted the placement of hydrologists and hydrogeologists at the top of employers' wish lists.

How contaminants affect soils and how they are transported through soils must also be studied. If these interactions are misunderstood, the cleanup and control measures can be ineffective. Investigating these interactions is the job of soil sC -lentists and geotechnical engineers.

Hazardous waste interacts with soils, clay, sand, and bedrock. Complex chemicals can alter the properties of soils. Clay, which is considered relatively impermeable, can become less so through the presence of some chemicals, and some chemicals can migrate faster through soils and clay than water alone. And some organisms in highly organic soil can convert chemicals into even more toxic forms.

Hundreds of samples may be taken at a hazardous waste site. At the Taylor Borough Superfund site in Pennsylvania, for example, more than 100 soil samples, 35 ground water samples, 17 samples from streams and ponds near the site, and 18 samples of stream sediments were collected.

Analysis of these samples presents puzzling problems. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of toxic chemicals have been dumped in sites over the years. These chemicals can combine to form different and, perhaps, more toxic compounds. To decipher these chemicals and compounds requires the skills of many specialists in the broad field of chemistry-analytical chemists, biochemists, geochemists, organic and inorganic chemists, and physical chemists.

"Analytical laboratories play an essential role in the cleanup," says Stan Phillipe, Chief of Site Mitigation in Calif"because we have to know what we're dealing with." Frequently, this requires that chemists devise techniques that can detect toxic chemicals in concentrations as small as parts per billion. "Developing the technology to break this sludge down and identify one constituent is incredibly costly. And then you must develop site-specific technology to treat it."

A few years ago, concern existed that the number of analytical labs was insufficient to handle the complex testing that hazardous material treatment demands. In response, EPA developed its own Contract Laboratory Program (CLP) to assure a sufficient number.

The program comprises private labs that have met stringent quality control requirements to perform a variety of inorganic, organic, and dioxin analyses. A 1985 study by the Congressional Research Service determined that the present capacity is sufficient to meet the demand.

Some people are not so sure. The 1986 Superfund Reauthorization amendments emphasized total cleanup of toxic sites rather than containment. George Gardner believes that the number of samples needed to design a total cleanup plan is much larger than those required for containment design and will significantly increase the analytical load. He says, "Increases in field lab analysis may help lighten the volume, but CLP capacity may be taxed even then."

Some States have established their own programs. Illinois has a State analytical laboratory and "also operates a very ambitious contract lab program," says William Child. In his experience, however, "the labs are overworked and understaffed."

A firm such as Weston frequently has Its own lab support its cleanup contracts. Scott Murray, vice-president for Human Resources, says, "We're always searching for good lab personnel, from bottle washers, who are always in demand, to highly skilled analytical chemists."

Feasibility Studies

Officials use the information gathered during the remedial investigation to develop different cleanup alternatives, one of which will be selected as the cleanup plan. The analyses of these alternatives are called feasibility studies.

EPA bases its selection on such factors as (1) effectiveness in protecting public health; (2) permanence of the remedy; (3) feasibility of the engineering techniques and technologies; and (4) cost.

Protecting public health is of paramount importance. To measure a plan's effectiveness, you need a knowledge of the risks a site poses. Assessing these risks is a task that falls to the toxicologist. According to Tom Tuffey, whoheads the econENVIRONomics Division of Weston, "toxicologists are being hired as fast as we can find them."

Scientific uncertainty complicates investigations. Little information is available concerning the health effects of many of the chemicals commonly found at sites. The National Academy of Sciences estimated in 1984 that no toxicity information was available on nearly 80 percent of the chemicals in commerce. Even less information is available on chemical wastes that are byproducts of chemical synthesis and manufacturing.

Chemicals also pose different kinds of toxicological hazards. For example, one compound might be highly toxic and produce an effect almost immediately. Another chemical might seem harmless in the short term but exposure over a long period of time could be dangerous.

Different groups of people might be more susceptible to certain chemicals and be affected by lower levels of exposure. A pregnant woman, for example, might not be affected by a particular chemical, but the baby she's carrying could suffer severely.

"Risk assessment at hazardous waste sites is very complex," says Dr. Norbert Page, a toxicologist with Dynamac Corporation in Rockville, Maryland, "There are many different chemicals present, the potential for interactions between these materials is great, and there are multiple pathways of exposure."

Seepage from the site may contaminate a nearby stream or river and threaten communities miles away. Winds might carry toxic particles or gases even greater distances. So, says Page, "the assessment must consider the risk to workers during cleanup, the risk to nearby residents, and the risk to the public miles, perhaps, from the site."

The 1985 Office of Technology Assessment study of work force needs says that "about half the present toxicologists could be involved in cleanup actions and that over 21/2 times the current number could be needed by 1995."

Remedial Design and Construction

Once a remediation plan has been selected, it must be designed in detail and then carried out. While the projects resemble other major construction ventures, there is a major difference-the presence of dangerous chemicals demands special planning and procedures.

Special plans for environmental protection, worker safety, equipment decontamination, and regulatory compliance are devised. The plans include characterizations of the kinds of hazardous materials at the site, as well as explanations of how these materials will be excavated, packaged, and transported, Where and how these wastes will be disposed of is an important part of the plan. Remediation solves nothing if it only results in transporting a problem to another site.

The design and construction undertaken at the Superfund site of Resolve, Inc., in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, illustrate the complexity of the problem. Workers had to clear the site, construct access roads, provide new utilities, and excavate 3,200 cubic yards of contaminated soil; excavate and solidify 3,500 cubic yards of liquid wastes from lagoons; and transport the wastes to an authorized site.

Comparatively few sites have reached the construction phase of the cleanup action. As of October 1986, the EPA, the States, and the responsible parties had completed work at 14 sites. These were deleted from the National Priority List. To date, one site has been restored to the list.

Worker Health and Safety

For some of us, the dangers posed by hazardous waste might seem remote. For the workers at a hazardous waste site, the risks are close at hand.

The Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act mandated health and safety training for every worker at a hazardous waste site. EPA has developed its own curriculum, called the Hazardous Materials Incidents Response Training Program. The program operates two training centers, one in Edison, New Jersey, and the other 'in Cincinnati. Training officers also take their classes on the road.

Thomas Sell, training coordinator for the program, says, "We began in 1980 with myself and one contractor and provided 8 weeks of training to 200 people. We estimate that we'll offer a cumulative total of 200 weeks of training in 1988." And the demand for training continues to increase. "We have four applications for every available slot," says Sell, who estimates that 13,000 people have participated in the program.

Participants range from construction workers to scientists to those who are usually first on the scene at a hazardous material accident or spill firefighters and police officers.

The program offers classes in nine subjects, and each class lasts from 3 to 5 days. A sampling of the course includes Hazardous Material Response for the First Responder; Introduction to Ground Water Investigation; and Environmental Risk Ana"We don't teach people to be experts," says Sell. "You can't do that in a year much less a week. We teach the fundamentals, with personal safety always a priority."

The law requires that all cleanup workers receive a minimum of 40 hours of safety training. Concerned that the present training capabilities may not satisfy the expected demand, the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act created the Superfund Hazardous Waste Worker Health and Safety Training Grants Program to be administered by the National Center for Environmental Health Sciences. The grants will go to nonprofit organizations experienced in the development and delivery of occupational health and safety programs. The program will disburse $10 million per year over the next 5 years.

The workers who will receive the training fall into six categories: (1) workers involved in waste cleanup and assessment; (2) workers at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act sites; (3) workers at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act treatment and disposal sites; (4) State and local government workers involved in cleanup and assessment; (5) emergency response workers; and (6) transportation workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that as many as 200,000 workers are expected to receive this training. Dr. John Dement, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, who directs the program, believes that an additional 20,000 workers might be added to the transportation worker category. Transporting hazardous wastes to specially permitted sites is increasing. Almost daily, news reports detail accidents involving the release of toxic wastes and other chemicals that place these workers at risk.

Polities and Paperwork

Decisions about cleanup are not made in a vacuum. Community concerns affect nearly every cleanup action. "You have to recognize how politically sensitive the problem is," says George Gardner. "This is an issue that directly affects people's lives."

Developing community support for a cleanup action is crucial to 'its success, but achieving a consensus does not come easily. Nearly every source interviewed for this article told of the difficulties of explaining the problem to the public. That's why, says Tom Tuffey of Weston, "there is a great need for people with technical expertise who can share their knowledge with the public."

"People do not understand why a site can't be cleaned up quickly," says Tony Farro of New Jersey's Superfund program. "But there are no easy solutions to the problems we face. It takes so long because, if we're going to spend so much money, we want to be certain that we're doing a proper job."

The frustrations that some communities feel at the slow pace of cleanup are frequently shared by the professionals in the field. George Gardner says that two of the projects on which he has worked for several years "sometimes seem as if they will never end. But we have to keep working."Several sources said that cleanup projects may last anywhere from 4 to 9 years.

"It can take 2 1/2 to perform the investigations and the studies and up to 2 years to design a solution before we can even began to clean up,"says Anthony Farro. "I used to be a carpenter and could see the results of my work in a short period of time. These problems are so complex that sometimes it's difficult to see what we are accomplishing."

These frustrations have created management difficulties in nearly all cleanup programs. Ken Dawsey, FPA's Deputy Director of Administration, says that the attrition rate in the Superfund program has run at only about 10 percent, but admits that there have been problems. "The increase in spending and the rapid multiplication of Superfund sites has forced us to put some young and fairly inexperienced people in the field. Stress and frustration have been a natural result."

Many of the headaches at waste sites are caused not by toxic pollutants but by the mountains of paperwork that managers must climb. To counter these problems, EPA "has developed a model curriculum to help managers in the field," says Dawsey. The curriculum is composed of different modules that deal with contracting procedures, procurement, and environmental law,

Because nearly 80 percent of cleanup cases end up in litigation, officials must adhere strictly to a wide array of Federal and State regulations to build a strong case. The legal labyrinth that they're required to negotiate is sometimes as complex as the contamination that they're trying to dispose of

To perform a Superfund lab analysis, for example, a very complicated set of protocols must be followed. These regulations, says Ron Willson, "generate a pile of paper three times as large as that required by the Clean Water Act protocols."The paperwork from one major program "fills eight cabinets," he says. And responding to a Freedom of Information request for documents concerning one site required his staff to compile a 1 00,000-page response.

A critical need exists for scientists, engineers, technicians, and construction workers to clean up the mess that all of us have created. This need will likely persist for some time. "We need technically competent people, with good communications skills. A strong science or engineering background will be a big plus," says George Gardner. At the same time, he offers advice that every aspiring scientist should heed-don't make assumptions. It's best to proceed with prudence. "Professionals tooked with the same glassy eyes at prospects in the oil business in the mid 1970's. Now, I bet that I get 30 resumes a week from 'oil patch' people."

Similar advice comes from Thomas Tuffey, of Weston, who believes that "the key to success is the ability to swing with the market. Get a solid education in one of the basic sciences or engineering and learn to apply it."

The problems we face call for diversity because many unknowns still exist. The full extent of contamination has not been determined. Hundreds of thousands of underground storage tanks are buried throughout the country. M any of these are leaking toxic contaminants, such as gasoline. Thousands of grain elevators, sprayed with pesticides for decades, may be polluting ground water. Tons of toxic material, much of it household wastes which we carelessly discard, are dumped illegally every day. We have decades of work in front of us.
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Author:Stanton, Michael
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1987
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