Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

An Automated Solution to the Superfund Documentation Problem

Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

An Automated Solution to the Superfund Documentation Problem

Article excerpt

Cleanups of emergency or long-term hazardous waste sites in the United States are handled through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund program as mandated by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), as amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). Emergency cleanups are handled by the Agency's emergency response program and long-term cleanups by the remedial program.

As of November 1990, more than 1,200 hazardous waste sites have been placed on this country's National Priority List (NPL). A recent EPA publication predicts an additional 100 sites per year to the NPL.(1) The NPL process was established as a method of assessing abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites which may be threats to public health or the environment. Each site nominated for the NPL is assessed and rated by a number of pre-established criteria which eventually determine the priority for cleanup actions.

The Superfund cleanup process can be incredibly complicated. The process includes:

* Site discovery and investigation;

* Negotiations with companies, individuals, or agencies to pay for cleanup, known as cost recovery;

* Studies to assess contamination and the best cleanup alternatives;

* Coordination with federal, state, and local agencies, businesses communities, and private citizens;

* Cleanup design and implementation;

* Operation and maintenance. EPA is required to allow and encourage public participation in the cleanup process by making information available through the "administrative record" process. The administrative record contains documents which were considered or relied upon to decide how a hazardous waste site is to be cleaned up. The administrative record serves as a vehicle for public participation in the decision, and must be available to the public in the regional office and at or near the hazardous waste site. Therefore much of the records system is driven by the timelines and requirements of the administrative record.


The Superfund Remedial Branch of EPA's Region VIII office in Denver, Colorado, began its records management initiative in the Spring of 1986. In the Fall of 1987 a contractor was hired to propose a pilot system which would provide an automated mechanism for document retrieval. The region wanted a records system which was centralized, structured, and secure and would meet the following requirements:

1. Generate a listing of documents based on various descriptors;

2. Provide quick access to diverse user groups;

3. Improve space usage;

4. Allow for efficient site cost recovery information;

5. Fulfill the agency's regulatory requirements for making the administrative record available to the public;

6. Respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in a timely manner.

In April 1988, records management needs identified by Region VIII were verified and supported by a study funded by EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This study also supported the recommendation for a centralized records management facility, as well as various applications of records technology. One contractor was retained to provide major document conversion into the new system and another contractor was hired to provide system maintenance in a centralized file room with a public viewing area.

Region VIII was the first regional office to institute document-level indexing and microfilming for Superfund documents. Since the original records system was implemented, a number of enhancements have been made. At the present time, Region VIII's "document control system" combines document-level indexing on INMAGIC software, bar coding, and microfilming with MicroScan technology to meet all of the needs identified by the region and prepare it for efficient conversion to optical imaging planned by EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER). …

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