American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

NRC Report on Innovations in Ground Water and Soil Cleanup (6-27-97)

Currently 300,000 to 400,000 waste disposal sites exist in the United States, with an estimated clean-up cost of 1 trillion dollars. The present regulatory system does not effectively stimulate companies to clean-up these sites. Companies often delay cleanup without penalty, and the "pump and treat" method typically used for groundwater cleanup fails to achieve standards at many sites. Most site managers are reluctant to use innovative technologies that would provide better results because they have not been sufficiently field tested. At the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense, the National Research Council developed a study, "Innovations in Ground Water and Soil Cleanup- From Concept to Commercialization," and released a report on June 11, 1997.

The study recommends five incentives to shift the technology market from a regulatory approach to one that captures the economic self-interest of companies and encourages the use of innovative technologies. First, economic incentives must be created. The committee recommends that companies fully disclose their hazardous waste sites as financial liabilities, which would spur cleanup for companies to clear their balance sheets. Secondly, regulations need to be enforced more consistently to ensure companies that comply with standards are not placed at a competitive disadvantage. Third, the regulatory process should not be technology prescriptive; it should allow companies to choose any technology as long as it meets standards. Fourth, information about contaminated sites should be made readily available on the internet, both for developers to see the market needs and to inform consumers about company practices. Finally, credible peer-reviewed data on performance and cost must be generated.

The study was conducted by the Committee on Innovative Remediation Technologies, which is under the direction of both the Board on Radioactive Waste Management and the Water Science and Technology Board. The 16 committee members represented a wide spectrum of expertise in areas such as hydrogeology, soil science, environmental engineering, environmental policy, patent law, finance, and puclic opinion. For more information on the these boards and their publications, visits the NRC Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources web site.

Copies of the Report are available from the National Academy Press (NAP) at a cost of $45.00 plus $4.00 shipping and handling. The NAP telephone number is (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated June 27, 1997

American Geological Institute Home Page

Government Affairs Program Home Page