Anacostia River Sediment Project is serious business as APACC members, others show

photo credit:  anacostia riverkeeper

photo credit: anacostia riverkeeper

The Anacostia River Sediment Project (ARSP) is a major element in the DC government’s effort to transform the degraded, contaminated river to its previous swimmable and fishable state. The District’s goal is especially ambitious because it only controls a small portion of the Anacostia River Watershed—the rest is in Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland. Tools like the ARSP can help engage stakeholders and marshall resources better than day-to-day efforts.

The ARSP is a multi-phase endeavor, and we are currently at the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) step. The Department of of Energy and Environment (DOEE), DC government’s lead on the restoration, published the most recent draft of the Remedial Investigation in March 2018 and sought public comments. The Remedial Investigation, according to DOEE, is to assess the nature and extent of pollution in the river by sampling river sediment and fish for a wide variety of chemicals. As part of the RI, studies will also integrate sampling and data collection to support a study for the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) of the river. The FS will evaluate potential remedial actions.


A Remedial Investigation is a mechanism to collect data about the conditions of a site, determine what pollutants are present, evaluate risks to the environment and human health, and test the potential performance and costs of various options for cleanup. A Feasibility Study is a tool for evaluating potential remedial (corrective) actions. The RI and FS typically overlap. Data from the RI influence the development of options for cleanup, and the FS gives rise to new data collection needs.

Fifteen individuals and organizations submitted approximately 550 comments, and DOEE is in the process of responding to each comment. The comments are available as a list, referred to as the “comment matrix.” Responses to comments, and any changes made based on comments, will be added to the comment matrix. All will be public.


Involvement of APACC and its members

APACC staff and members have supported ARSP in several ways, including: serving on planning teams for public meetings, regularly sharing information with members and the broader community, and continuing the dialogue with DOEE about the need for better community engagement.

Several APACC members—Sierra Club, DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and Anacostia Riverkeeper—submitted comments, but APACC as a whole did not.

DC Appleseed was more involved in the ARSP than most community groups. DOEE awarded the organization a grant for technical support to improve their understanding, and that of the public, of  “technical reports, site conditions, and DOEE’s cleanup proposal and decision for the Anacostia River Sediment Project.”  After all, “the federal government, District of Columbia government, and other parties to the process have their own technical consultants, and the public deserves an opportunity to make equally informed comments.” (Anacostia River Sediment Project Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study)

DC Appleseed has summarized their ARSP comments to DOEE so we can all better understand how the project can be improved:

The Remedial Investigation report and associated risk assessments demonstrate a solid commitment by DOEE to timely completion of the remediation planning process and to an expeditious undertaking of the appropriate cleanup of contaminated river sediments. In our view, the RI, the HHRA, and ERA have been performed in a manner consistent with the standards of the National Contingency Plan (NCP), 40 C.F.R. Part 300.  However, we and our experts also recommend that a prompt and narrowly focused effort be undertaken by DOEE to gather specific additional data about (increase the sample size of) fish tissue and associated sediment contamination where these fish are caught. Properly managed, a focused effort to gather these additional data should not delay the completion of the Feasibility Study (FS) or the Record of Decision (ROD); moreover, these additional data will help strengthen public confidence in the protectiveness of the remedy.

Key recommendations

Recommendation 1: Data from striped bass were excluded from the risk assessment, even though it is clear that people eat striped bass, a highly prized fish, and a species which has shown very high contaminant levels.

Recommendation 2: Data from other species people prefer, specifically catfish, should be given greater weight in the analysis.

Recommendation 3: New calculations can be done to better use existing fish tissue data, including combining whole-body fish chemistry data from the ecological risk assessment with whole-body fish chemistry data from human health risk assessment.

Recommendation 4: Including temporal trend analysis would provide insight into the cause(s) of fish tissue chemistry changes.

Recommendation 5: Fish Consumption Rates and Exposure Duration

Recommendation 5a: Fish consumption rates used in the HHRA are suggestive of the need for a higher level of remediation as compared to national averages.

Recommendation 5b: The exposed human population, particularly those who are subsistence fishers, will tend to be poorer than average, and tend to have less access to health care and early detection of cancers.  These factors favor an approach to estimating human health risk from fish consumption that suggests a higher level of remediation.

Recommendation 5c: The exposure duration used in the HHRA is less than the values recommended by EPA (33 to 46 years). The longer time period is more appropriate given the HHRA’s approach to fish consumption risk estimates.  

Recommendation 6: The Army Corps of Engineers has conducted substantial cleanup of chemical munitions from World War I in the Spring Valley portion of the District, using risk assumptions about cancer risks that suggest a need for a greater level of remediation.  While Spring Valley did not involve a fish consumption exposure pathway, a consistent approach should be taken to determining what health risks are acceptable to District residents when it comes to a superfund cleanup, not one which varies by geography.

Recommendation 7: Portrayal of Information, Opportunities for Graphics: We sincerely appreciate the public availability of information related to this RI process. We have had no difficulty accessing drafts and attachments or finding relevant documents. However, as lay persons commenting on this RI, we request some changes to make it easier for interested stakeholders to read.

Recommendation 8: Emerging Chemicals of Concern: The HHRA analyzed samples for the EPA’s priority pollutants, which is appropriate. This analysis would be strengthened by an explanation of why pyrethroid pesticides and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s) were added for consideration, but other relevant chemicals (such as those from personal care products and pharmaceuticals) were not. There is also the possibility that the combination or interaction of chemicals (included or not) is causing observed effects, which should be discussed in the uncertainty assessment.

Recommendation 9: Ecological Risk Analyses: We recommend that the document be revised to clarify the significance of both biota sediment accumulation factors (BSAF’s) and biomagnification factors (BMF’s). BSAF’s and BMF’s are both measures of how much of certain pollutants have built up in a living thing over time. They are used to determine the level of exposure and risks to living things from those pollutants, but don’t tell us what the risks are on their own. This affects the conclusions reached about the risk to fish in the Anacostia.

DC Appleseed's Conclusion
Based on our review of the RI, HHRA, and ERA, we think that these reports are consistent with National Contingency Plan standards and that sufficient data has been collected to support the Feasibility Study process. However, we believe that it will be important to bolster these documents by: (1)initiating a focused effort to increase sample sizes by gathering specific additional fish contaminant data, closely correlated with sediment concentrations of contaminants, and (2) making the suggested revisions to the HHRA and ERA.  We believe that, properly managed, that focused effort can be performed within the existing deadline for the Record of Decision and strengthen the basis for the remedial standards selected. Given recent legal challenges presented that delayed similar RI/FS processes, it is our strong recommendation that the Department of Energy and the Environment take every reasonable opportunity to collect the recommended additional data to increase confidence in its determinations of appropriate cleanup standards as part of the FS. We will be happy to provide any support we can as that work moves forward.


Going forward

Did you miss the deadline to comment? No worries. There will be plenty of opportunities for community engagement as the process continues. For more information, contact Gretchen Mikeska, DOEE’s Anacostia Coordinator (