Ecological Benefits of Contaminated Sediment Remediation
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Contaminated sediment has been identified as a source of ecological impacts in marine and freshwater systems throughout the world, and the importance of the contaminated sediment management issue continues to increase in all industrialized countries. In many areas, dredging or removal of sediments contaminated with nutrients, metals, oxygen-demanding substances, and persistent toxic organic chemicals has been employed as a form of environmental remediation. In most situations, however, the documentation of the sediment problem has not been quantitatively coupled to ecological impairments. In addition, the lack of long-term, postactivity research and monitoring for most projects has impeded a better understanding of the ecological significance of sediment contamination. Establishing quantitatively the ecological significance of sediment-associated contamination in any area is a difficult time- and resource-consuming exercise. It is, however, absolutely essential that it be done. Such documentation will likely be used as the justification for remedial and rehabilitative action(s) and also as the rationale for proposing when intervention is necessary in one place but not another. Bounding the degree of ecological impact (at least semiquantitatively) provides for realistic expectations for improvement if sediment remediation is to be pursued. It should also provide essential information on linkages that could be used in rehabilitating other ecosystem components such as fish or wildlife habitat. The lack of information coupling contaminated sediment to specific ecological impairments has, in many instances, precluded a clear estimate of how much sediment requires action to be taken, why, and what improvements can be expected to existing impairment(s) over time. Also, it has likely resulted in either a delay in remedial action or abandonment of the option altogether. A clear understanding of ecological links not only provides adequate justification for a cleanup program but also represents a principal consideration in the adoption of nonintervention, alternative strategies. In developing this understanding, it is important to know not only the existing degree of ecological impairment associated with sediment contaminants but also the circumstances under which those relationships and impacts might change (i.e., contaminants become more available and more detrimental). Because contaminated sediment remediation often costs millions of dollars per area, adequate assessment, prediction, and monitoring of recovery would seem obvious. However, experience has shown that this is not always the case, particularly for prediction and monitoring of ecological recovery. This scenario would never happen in the business world and should not occur in the environmental management field.
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