Hazardous Waste Site Assessment and Restoration
Photo: A sign warning the public not to have contact with the river.
As a result of hazardous releases a warning sign is placed along the Anacostia River in Maryland.

Unfortunately, waste products from past and current industrial activities have injured America’s river and coastal marine resources through both accidental spills and intentional discharges. This happens when industry activities such as shipbuilding, oil storage and transfer, chemical manufacturing, and port operations have released hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment.

These hazardous releases have caused a variety of negative impacts on marine ecosystems, including:

  • Poor fish health. Tumors have been found inside and outside of fish due to chemical contamination of the aquatic environment.
  • Decreased fish and shellfish populations. Reproduction and survival of prized fish such as salmon, trout, and walleye have declined.
  • Loss of habitat. Wetland, river, beach, coral, and submerged aquatic vegetation habitats have been contaminated, disturbed, or destroyed.
  • Fish advisories. Public health agencies issue advisories limiting the consumption of fish and shellfish due to elevated levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other contaminants.

Who Addresses Impacts from Hazardous Waste Releases?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the federal agency responsible for the assessment and restoration of river and coastal resources injured by hazardous material releases. NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration works with other NOAA offices to form the Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP).

After hazardous materials are released into river or coastal environments, DARRP can take several key actions:

  1. Providing technical support to cleanup agencies. NOAA scientists, placed in Environmental Protection Agency regional offices, give technical advice for remedial efforts at coastal hazardous waste sites.
  2. Coordinating and conducting Natural Resource Damage Assessments.
  3. Overseeing implementation of restoration projects and monitoring their effectiveness
Photo: Green copper seepage into an estuary
Goose Cove at the Callahan Mine Superfund site, an old copper mine in Brooksville, ME (2009). The bluish color indicates the seepage of copper into the estuary from the Waste Rock Pile source.

Providing Technical Support for Cleanup Natural Resource

NOAA works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state remedial agencies to identify and evaluate risks to coastal resources from hazardous waste sites and to develop strategies to minimize those risks. As natural resource trustee, NOAA scientists identify polluted areas that could adversely affect surrounding plants, animals, and habitat; determine their potential for injury; and evaluate cleanup options and monitoring strategies.

NOAA provides technical support for effective cleanup decisions that accelerate natural resource recovery by:

  • Making recommendations to EPA and other lead cleanup agencies on ecological risk, remedial issues, and opportunities to integrate cleanup and restoration.
  • Predicting and measuring the effects of contaminants on natural resources.
  • Developing site-specific cleanup levels for contaminants and remedial strategies that will protect NOAA resources and the environment.
  • Coordinating among all partner agencies and interested stakeholders to improve coastal areas through comprehensive remedies.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment

DARRP conducts a Natural Resource Damage Assessment in order to restore U.S. rivers and coasts after spills and releases of hazardous substances. Several laws mandate that the organizations or individuals that release hazardous materials into the environment are responsible for the cost of cleaning up the spill and for restoring any resulting injury to natural resources.

As part of this process, DARRP and co-trustee agencies (e.g., state and federal environmental agencies and Tribes) conduct scientific studies to identify the extent of contamination and environmental damage and then determine the best restoration methods needed to repair habitat and lost public services. To learn more about specific assessment and restoration activities, including those for a particular river or coastal spill, please visit the DARRP website.