Transit projects may encounter hazardous materials during construction, especially if a project is built on a brownfield or a previously disturbed site. Hazardous material is a generic term for anything toxic to humans or the environment. It includes dangerous waste, problem waste, petroleum products, and other hazardous substances. Materials that may constitute a hazardous waste include petroleum products, pesticides, organic compounds, heavy metals, or other compounds injurious to human health and the environment. The nature and extent of hazardous contamination can vary widely. Early detection, evaluation, and remediation of hazardous waste are essential to minimize project delays and protect the environment.
How does FTA address hazardous materials as part of the NEPA process?
Generally, every project that includes the purchase of new right-of-way, excavation, and/or structure demolition or modification will require at least an initial site assessment to determine if there is any known or potential hazardous waste within the proposed project limits. The proper due diligence procedures should be followed in order to limit liability. Due diligence involves conducting a Phase I environmental site assessment in accordance with EPA’s All Appropriate Inquiries Rule. A Phase I Environmental Assessment (Phase I) will determine prior uses and ownership of a property and assess conditions at the property that may be indicative of releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances at, on, in, or to the property, known as Recognized Environmental Conditions (REC). The Phase I assessment consists of a thorough historical records search and site visit conducted by an environmental professional. FTA prefers the Phase I assessment be completed prior to the completion of the draft environmental document (i.e., EA, Draft EIS) so that findings can be presented to the public for review and comment.
If RECs are identified, a Phase II Environmental Assessment may be conducted to sample and analyze the nature and extent of the hazards that may have been identified on site.
Several federal laws have been established to ensure remediation of contaminated sites. These laws include the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA; also known as "Superfund"), the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA), the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the Underground Storage Tank (UST) program.
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), (42 USC § 9601, et seq)
- Provides for liability, compensation, cleanup, and emergency response for hazardous substances released into the environment and the cleanup of inactive hazardous waste disposal sites.
- Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act
- CERCLA was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986.
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), as amended, (42 USC § 6901, et seq)
- Regulates the treatment, storage, transportation, and disposal of solid hazardous waste. Subtitle I establishes regulatory program that prevents, detects, and cleans up releases from underground storage tank (USTs) systems containing petroleum or hazardous substances.
- USDOT Brownfields Strategy Action Plan (PDF), December 1996
- Sets forth the USDOT’s policy on supporting transportation-related Brownfields redevelopment.
- FHWA and FTA Policy on Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative, December 1996
- Reaffirms USDOT’s policy in FHWA and FTA programs.
- USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater, Earth Day Brownfields Policy Announcement, April 1998
- Press release.
- USDOT Deputy Secretary Mort Downey, Brownfields Showcase Summit, October 1998
- Press release.
- Transportation and Brownfields (PDF), July 2000
- EPA fact sheet.
- EPA, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
- EPA Superfund webpage
- EPA Site Assessment webpage
- EPA, Brownfields webpage