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Greener Cleanups Whitepaper

June 20, 2007


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region 5 and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) are bringing together a small group of people engaged in site cleanups and sustainable reuse to explore a new initiative called Greener Cleanups.

Greener Cleanups refers to a method of site remediation that makes 1) the actual cleanup more efficient and less polluting, and 2) results in a site where the development is designed to reduce the environmental impacts of future use.

The purpose of this whitepaper is to provide background information in anticipation of a working meeting. The whitepaper provides an overview of Illinois EPA’s cleanup programs, potential opportunities, and possible barriers. Illinois EPA’s programs are presented as case studies for the purpose of this whitepaper with the understanding that other states within Region 5 will have analogous programs.


The Illinois EPA administers, oversees, or implements a number of cleanup programs. These programs can be grouped based on their legislative or regulatory context and on the lllinois EPA’s role in the work.

Category One: Required with Illinois EPA Oversight

Cleanup programs in this category are required by regulation. Illinois EPA provides regulatory oversight of the cleanups. The cleanups are typically implemented by the responsible parties. Cleanup programs in this category include the following:

  • RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Action) Corrective Action Sites. Illinois EPA is responsible for overseeing closure and corrective action activities carried out at RCRA, Subtitle C facilities. The closure activities are necessary at those facilities which no longer desire to manage hazardous waste under a permit. The corrective action activities occur at those facilities which obtain a Part B permit and include development of RCRA Facility Assessments, RCRA Facility Investigation reviews, corrective measures reviews, and closure plan reviews.
  • CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Recovery Act) National Priority List Sites. Sites listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) are the most serious, uncontrolled hazardous substance sites in the state and the country. Illinois EPA project managers provide leadership and supervision for these NPL sites during a five-phase remedial response process. During the remedial response process, the extent of site contamination is investigated; possible cleanup remedies are studied; the cleanup remedy is selected and designed and the remedy is implemented.
  • CERCLA Federal Facility Sites.Federal facilities of concern are those where the federal government conducts (or has conducted) a variety of activities that have resulted in hazardous waste, unexploded ordnance, explosive waste, radioactive waste, fuels, and a variety of other hazardous substances that present an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment. Illinois EPA project managers provide regulatory oversight and technical assistance for environmental cleanups at federal properties under the federal CERCLA regulations and the Illinois Leaking Underground Storage Tank program. The properties consist of active and reserve Army, Navy and Air Force facilities, as well as formerly used defense sites.
  • Leaking UST (Leaking Underground Storage Tank) Sites.Illinois EPA oversees the remedial activities after a release from an underground storage tank has been reported to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Illinois EPA staff review the technical adequacy of site classification and site investigation plans and reports, groundwater monitoring plans and reports, corrective action plans and reports, and associated budgets. This includes the development and evaluation of the appropriate remediation objectives for each site. Once the site has met its remediation objectives and program requirements, the Illinois EPA issues a No Further Remediation Letter (NFR) for the Leaking UST incident.

Category Two: Voluntary with Illinois EPA Oversight

Cleanup programs in this category are defined by regulation but entry is voluntary. Illinois EPA provides oversight of the cleanups to assure compliance with the regulations. The cleanups are typically implemented by Remediation Applicants who may or may not be the responsible parties. Cleanup programs in this category include the following:

  • SRP (Site Remediation Program) Sites. The SRP provides Remediation Applicants (RA's) (i.e., any persons seeking to perform investigative or remedial activities) the opportunity to receive Illinois EPA review, technical assistance and NFR determinations from the Illinois EPA. This program is designed to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the RA's. The goals and scope of actions at these sites are normally defined by the RA's.
  • The Illinois EPA is authorized to issue NFR letters to the RA's who have successfully demonstrated, through proper investigation and, when warranted, remedial action, that environmental conditions at their remediation site do not present a significant risk to human health or the environment. The NFR letter signifies a release from further responsibilities under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act. This program's activities are paid by the parties requesting the Illinois EPA's oversight.
  • Brownfield Sites. The Illinois EPA offers Brownfields grant and loan programs and technical support to communities through the services of its Brownfields representatives. Brownfields representatives work directly with communities to explain cleanup options, regulatory programs and requirements and guide municipalities through the Brownfields cleanup and redevelopment process. The Municipal Brownfields Redevelopment Grant Program provides funding to local municipalities to investigate and clean up brownfields properties. The Illinois Brownfields Redevelopment Loan Program is a revolving low-interest loan program that provides funds to municipalities for the environmental cleanup of Brownfields sites.

Category Three: Illinois EPA Response Actions

Cleanup programs in this category are authorized by legislation. Illinois EPA implements the cleanups using contracted services under Illinois EPA oversight. The cleanups are typically not implemented by the responsible parties although the Illinois EPA may seek cost recovery. Cleanup programs in this category include the following:

  • SRAP (State Response Action Program) Sites. The main objective of the SRAP is to clean up hazardous substances at sites that present an imminent and substantial threat to human health and the environment, but which may not be addressed by other federal or state cleanup programs. The SRAP provides financial and administrative resources for timely and effective responses to releases or threatened releases. Provisions for cost recovery of state-incurred expenditures and for punitive damages compel responsible party participation in cleanups and to conserve state funds. The sites handled by the SRAP include abandoned landfills, old manufacturing plants, former waste oil recycling operations, contaminated agrichemical facilities and other areas where surface water, groundwater, soil and air may be contaminated with hazardous substances.
  • I-RID (Illinois Removes Illegal Dumps) Sites. I-RID provides funding for the Illinois EPA to cleanup orphan open dump sites and abandoned piles of waste. The Illinois EPA started I-RID to facilitate the removal of waste and prevent future dumping on public lands. The Illinois EPA may undertake a consensual removal action for the removal of up to 20 cubic yards of waste at no cost to the owner of private property. Illinois EPA has restricted private land clean ups to those sites where fly dumping has occurred, sites bought by owners who were unaware of dumping on the property, or sites owned by individuals with severe illness or financial difficulties.

    When a larger cleanup is ordered on private lands due to a threat to human and environmental health, Illinois EPA may attempt to recover the costs of the clean up from the property owner. In some cases the Illinois EPA may spend up to $50,000 at any single site in response to open dumping.
  • Used Tire Sites. An important activity carried out by the Illinois EPA under the Used Tire Program is forced tire removals. The Illinois EPA has authority to undertake appropriate preventive or corrective actions when an accumulation of used tires presents a threat to the environment or public health. If the responsible party does not undertake the preventative/corrective actions outlined in a notice issued pursuant to the Environmental Protection Act, the Illinois EPA may recover costs associated with the cleanup as well as punitive damages up to twice the cost of the cleanup.


As stated in the introduction to this whitepaper, Greener Cleanups refers to a method of site remediation that makes 1) the actual cleanup more efficient and less polluting, and 2) results in a site where the development is designed to reduce the environmental impacts of future use.

Ideally, Greener Cleanups will conserve resources with thoughtful planning preparations that maximize the overlap of site assessment, cleanup and redevelopment. Greener Cleanups will streamline and improve the sequence of activities so that during cleanup and reuse as little additional pollution enters the environment as possible. Greener Cleanups may seek to use alternative remediation methods or seek to reduce the scope of cleanup activities while continuing to assure protection of human health. Once sites are remediated, they may continue to support community sustainability through such practices as natural stormwater management, energy efficient buildings, low impact developments and native landscaping.

Potential opportunities for Greener Cleanups are described below.

Air: Reduce amount of waste transported off site and the associated vehicle emissions. Use biofuels in cleanup equipment. Improve emission controls on cleanup equipment and transportation vehicles.

Water: Use stormwater permeable engineered barriers where appropriate. Manage site runoff using natural systems such as bioswales and constructed wetlands.

Land: Conserve landfill space by using alternative remediation methods or by seeking to reduce the scope of the cleanup through risk assessment or institutional controls. Recycle materials, such as concrete and asphalt, as appropriate. Use recycled materials for fill. Coordinate cleanup with site planning to minimize scope of remediation.

Natural Resources: Combine innovative remediation techniques, such as phytoremediation, with opportunities for habitat creation or carbon sequestration.

Economic Development: Use cleanup work to provide local employment and training opportunities. Coordinate remedy with future development to minimize cost burden to the future development.


Two Illinois EPA graduate interns interviewed representatives from each of Illinois EPA’s bureaus (Air, Land, and Water), the Bureau of Land's RCRA permits section, the Office of Pollution Prevention, and Illinois EPA budget officers. The purpose of these interviews was to identify possible institutional and legal barriers to greener cleanups. The results of the interviews are presented below.

Air Permits: Any machinery and or cleaning process used during site remediation that releases emissions requires a permit. There is a trade-off when it comes to treatment practices. Permits are required for any treatment of asbestos on site: using crushers, screeners, air strippers, oxidizers, etc. Permits to use treatment systems are on a tiered approach and generally take approximately 60 days to process. The more complicated and larger the site, the more difficult the permit is to process. In some cases Superfund sites can meet specific requirements and be exempted from having to receive permits. See section121E CERCLA.

Communication: Lack of communication between: site owners, developers, consultants, municipal officials, regulatory agency and within regulatory agencies.

Contracted Designers and Contractors: For state led cleanups, the Illinois EPA has site cleanup contracts with ten designers and ten contractors. The designers develop the cleanup plan and the contractors implement the plan. Choosing a contractor or designer outside of these is a long process and is almost never done. If none of the contractors is able to perform as specifically needed, the contractor can subcontract another company to do so. Each contractor has their own staffing, training, and equipment limitations and subcontracting may not be practical due to barriers such as distance, time, cost, etc.

Cost: Illinois EPA has a “set” amount of money appropriated each year for state-led cleanup projects. For private cleanups, a “greener cleanup” may pose a financial disincentive to the site owner and/or environmental consultants.

Distance: Distance is a factor when designing a cleanup strategy. It can influence cost, time and even the environment (i.e., transporting the material in itself releases pollutant emission).

Empirical Data: There are few, if any, case studies that demonstrate success in the areas of cost, time, liability, community growth etc.

Engineered Barriers: Permeable pavements can be a problem because they can’t serve as engineered barriers under the Tiered Approach to Cleanup Objectives (TACO - the cleanup methodology used by SRP, LUST, RCRA). Permeable pavements allow surface water filtration, which by their nature, could influence the migration of contamination left in place.

Equipment: The contractors or the subcontractors may not have the right equipment. Getting the right equipment might cost more, take longer and have distance problems.

Initial Expense: Up-front cost discourages approaches that in the long run are better for the environment and operating and maintenance costs.

Landfill: Under RCRA regulations, if contaminants are buried and covered, the site may or may not constitute a landfill. If a site is considered a “landfill” under RCRA, additional measures must be taken. There are specific regulations, such as onsite leak detection and other additional requirements that need to be followed.

Listed Hazardous Waste: If a substance is listed as a hazardous waste under RCRA, it must follow specific regulations. In most cases it must be removed and transported to a landfill (Dig and Haul).

Management Endorsement: Without the support or influence of management, project managers may not be motivated to change “business as usual” approaches to site clean ups.

Mind Set: Site managers may be resistant to new cleanup approaches, because they may not be successful and or may involve more work. They don’t think in terms of a “greener cleanups,” meaning the focus is not on the environmental performance during the clean up process or how the site will continue to promote human and environmental health in the future. They think of cleanups in terms of treating or removing contaminants so that there is no longer a threat. Private site owners’ main priorities are cost, time and potential liability. The new greener approaches to cleanups must not only benefit the environment but those areas as well.

New Cleanup Approaches: New cleanup approaches may be a gamble. Unforeseeable problems may turn out to cost more, take longer and in the end not be more environmentally effective. Thus, contractors, designers and agencies may be skeptical of change.

Other Bureaucracies: In some cases the site may be affiliated with other agencies or organizations such as IDOT or HUD. These other bureaucracies have their own rules, regulations and procedures that may present barriers to greener cleanups.

Permits: Different cleanup strategies may require permits from RCRA, Bureau of Air, etc. These permits take time (usually no more then 90 days) and may be denied.

Risk Factor: Under RCRA regulations, the higher a site’s level of contamination (i.e., the higher the threat to human heath and environment) the more stringent the regulation and the more limited cleanup alternatives become.

Staffing Demands: The Illinois EPA may not have enough adequately trained staff to oversee or implement different cleanup approaches.

Time: The deadline requirement or the length of time it takes to clean up a site may influence cost and cleanup strategy decision making.

Toxic Tort Liability (Demolition Recycling): Recycling of site material can be hindered by certain types of contaminants such as asbestos. In some cases metal contaminated with asbestos can be cleaned and reused, however materials with pores such as bricks or wood that are contaminated with asbestos may not be reused and must be disposed of according to specific regulations. In any case, it is important to consider liability issues when recycling or reusing material from a cleanup.

Waste Water: All waste water must be permitted before it is discarded. The permit process can take up to a year, the fastest being four months. In general, it takes longest to receive a permit for dumping in lakes and streams; however permits to dump into a sewer system take less time to process. Different rules apply to “immediate action” sites. Immediate actions are sites that have a high threat level to human health and environment where it is necessary to clean up the site without delay.

Earth Tech prepared this whitepaper drawing on information from Illinois EPA’s website, information prepared by Illinois EPA staff, and information prepared by Illinois EPA graduate interns.