Conflicting goals: Superfund, risk assessment, and community participation in decision making

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This article uses the history of a Superfund site - the Torch Lake site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan - to suggest that the risk-based decision-making process of Superfund sends mixed messages, frustrating public participation even when some level of involvement is appropriate and desirable. In this case, Superfund-related conflicts in the community remained unresolved even after the USEPA issued its Superfund Record of Decision. Only after a public advisory council reviewed the beneficial uses of the waterway as part of a decision-making process required by the joint US-Canadian Area of Concern program did the community have a mechanism to reach some consensus on these issues. Rather than reducing a complex problem to a set of numbers that discouraged discussion, the review of beneficial uses facilitated discussions that allowed non-experts to place the various impairments in perspective. The implication for regulators who are required to make risk-based decisions is that, where public involvement in the decision-making process is appropriate, indicator-based discussions of beneficial uses are likely to be more productive than discussions centered around risk. © 2001 National Association of Environmental Professionals.

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Environmental Practice