A Decision Analysis Framework for Groundwater Remediation

EPA Grant Number: R825825
Title: A Decision Analysis Framework for Groundwater Remediation
Investigators: Harvey, Charles F.
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: October 1, 1997 through September 30, 2000
Project Amount: $205,000
RFA: Decision-Making and Valuation for Environmental Policy (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Justice


A policy analyst for a contaminated groundwater site faces a formidable list of issues on social values. The choice of a remedial strategy involves tradeoffs between the large expenses of action and the large and uncertain consequences of inaction -- consequences for health, for ecological quality, and for the availability of drinking water. The choice of a strategy also involves attitudes toward risk, the discounting of outcomes in the distant future, concerns for equity between the outcomes at different times, and concerns for equity between the outcomes for different groups.

The proposed research will gain synergy by bringing together ideas that are emerging in the fields of the principal investigators. Groundwater hydrologists are recognizing that slow mobile/immobile mass-transfer processes impose constraints on aquifer remediation and that slow degradation processes can reduce organic contaminant levels over the long-term. Decision analysts are recognizing the importance of modeling social values that give significance to future generations and include concerns for equity.

The proposed research will provide a comprehensive framework for the evaluation of alternative strategies for the cleanup and containment of pollution at a contaminated groundwater site. The framework will include both the identified physical processes and the identified issues of social values. Decision analysis models will be added to groundwater hydrology models so that a policy analyst can relate the information on a contaminated site to a policy choice on remediation for the site. Issues of social values will be modeled such that the policy analyst can perform what-if analyses on the implications of different social values for the evaluation of the alternative strategies.

Such an inclusive framework will require the development of new decision analysis methods: models for intertemporal equity, procedures that separate different issues of social values, and parametric functions for social values to provide for what-if analyses on the implications of social values for a policy choice. These new methods will be developed and will be combined with available methods such as models of risk aversion for the highly uncertain health effects of groundwater pollution and models of discounting that can assign significant value to outcomes for future generations.

Expected Results:

The work will be in three stages. First, we will develop a decision analysis framework that includes assessment procedures and parametric functions for social values on the issues of (1) discounting future outcomes, (2) risk aversion for health and environmental effects, (3) concern for equity between the outcomes at different times, and (4) concern for equity between different groups. Second, we will apply the framework to the contamination site at Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The hydrology and the behavior of the contaminants have already been extensively studied at this site, and detailed models have been developed for both regional transport and remediation. The first and second stages will proceed interactively.

In the third stage, we will apply the framework to the general context of groundwater remediation. We will examine how social values and information on a specific site affect the choice of a remedial strategy, and how social values and regulatory constraints imply the distribution of limited monetary resources among different contaminant sites. Thus, we intend that the proposed framework will be a coherent means for studying national policy questions of groundwater remediation.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 21 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 4 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Groundwater, Remediation, Decision Analysis, Equity, Discounting., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Waste, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, POLLUTANTS/TOXICS, Hydrology, Remediation, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Arsenic, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, decision-making, Water Pollutants, Groundwater remediation, Social Science, Economics & Decision Making, Ecological Indicators, ecosystem valuation, organic pollutants, policy analysis, risk assessment, social psychology, deliberative policy, ecological exposure, social impact analysis, valuation, community involvement, decision analysis, decisions analysis, ecological modeling, environmental values, groundwater hydrology models, environmental policy, aquatic ecosystems, human values, public values, social constraints, mass transfer limitations, public policy, ecological models, community values, groundwater

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • 1999 Progress Report
  • Final Report