Department of Health Seal

TGM for the Implementation of the Hawai'i State Contingency Plan
Subsection 2.4


In contrast to Emergency Responses, non-emergency Environmental Cleanup actions generally occur over a longer time frame, allowing for detailed site assessments to help determine whether and to what extent sites are contaminated, identify environmental hazards, and determine if response actions are necessary to remediate hazardous substances. In some cases complex environmental cleanups involving multiple contaminants and both soil and groundwater contamination can involve years of effort before the site is adequately cleaned up and closed.

Environmental cleanups conducted for non-emergency hazardous substance releases are often responding to historic or suspect past releases rather than to observable recent evidence, such as leaking containers, spilled materials, or other obvious sources of contamination at the site. Examples of historic releases include:

  • Containers of leaking hazardous substances and stained surface soils are discovered and removed during an emergency response, but some sub-soil or groundwater contamination still remains
  • Groundwater contamination discovered in a non-drinking groundwater aquifer located below a former gasoline service station
  • A Phase II Environmental Site Assessment required by a financial institution reveals soil or groundwater contaminated with a hazardous substance above HEER Office Environmental Action Levels
  • Soil pesticide residue above HEER Office Environmental Action Levels is documented in a former agricultural field. Note: where owners/operators can document that pesticides were legally applied under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), an exemption from the definition of a release may apply (i.e., HRS 128D-1, definition of a "release"); however, the HEER Office would still be interested to ensure the potential risk was evaluated to determine if any response action is appropriate to protect public health or the environment.

Historic releases generally do not present immediate threats needing an emergency response, because they have typically aged, weathered, absorbed, or dispersed into the soil, or diluted in groundwater to the point that the contamination present does not pose a significant short-term hazard. However, they may commonly represent long-term hazards to human health or the environment. The SDAR staff of the HEER Office oversees these types of releases. A hazardous substance release could start out as an emergency response cleanup action under the oversight of the EP&R Section, and then be transferred over to the SDAR Section for follow through on cleanup of contamination that was not addressed in the emergency response cleanup. Examples of these "non-historic" releases resulting in longer-term environmental cleanups include;

  • Sub-surface soil contamination from a diesel line rupture (after EP&R provided oversight of the surface soil removal)
  • A release from an above-ground storage tank resulting in both surface and subsurface soil contamination
  • Drums of hazardous chemicals and surface soil are removed under EP&R oversight, but where soil staining or sampling data indicated the potential for remaining subsurface or groundwater contamination

An overview of the discovery, assessment, and cleanup steps for non-emergency hazardous substance releases established under the Hawaiʻi SCP is provided in Figure 2-1, and described below.

Figure 2.1

Figure 2-1. Overview of the Site Discovery, Investigation and Cleanup Process for Non-emergency Environmental Cleanups

2.4.1 Site Discovery for Environmental Cleanups

The SDAR Section discovers sites that need evaluation or environmental cleanups through the following means:

  • Reports of contaminants in environmental assessments conducted by environmental consultants for private or public parties (e.g., Phase I or II Environmental Site Assessments)
  • State-led site discovery efforts
  • Referrals from the HEER Office EP&R Section for follow through on cleanup of contamination that was not addressed in an initial emergency response cleanup
  • Investigations by other government agencies, universities, private and non-profit organizations
  • Observations or complaints provided by the public

It is common for banks or lending institutions to require environmental assessments of properties before they may be considered as security for a loan, as well as to seek written assurance from the HEER Office that sites have been evaluated appropriately and found free from human health or environmental hazards.

The HEER Office considers sites where environmental contaminant concentrations exceed relevant HDOH HEER Office Tier 1 Environmental Action Levels (EALs) to be sites where hazardous substances may present an unacceptable risk or substantial endangerment to health or the environment.

Exceedances of the Tier 1 EALs do not automatically mean that unacceptable risks exist. Tier 1 EAL exceedances do mean a site needs to be evaluated further to determine if the level of risk at the site is acceptable or unacceptable, and if cleanup actions are appropriate. Historic releases are usually identified when environmental samples (typically soil and/or groundwater) are collected at a site, and sample analysis shows Tier 1 EAL exceedances. These exceedances are an indicator that a health or environmental threat may exist and should be addressed or evaluated further (e.g., additional site investigation or site-specific risk assessment).

2.4.2 Site Listing

The HEER Office maintains a list of sites that have been identified for attention under the Hawaiʻi SCP. The site list is updated on a regular basis, and is available to the public for review. The HEER Office site listing includes sites that have been discovered through a variety of means, including mandatory release notification (emergency responses are included in the site listing database), HEER Office site discovery actions, and voluntary reporting. The list includes sites where a responsible party may or may not have been identified, sites in compliance with enforceable agreements or those in compliance through voluntary actions, as well as sites where hazardous substances have not been adequately characterized yet.

Sites are placed on the HEER Office site list based on information regarding actual or probable environmental hazards from hazardous substance releases, including actual or probable releases to:

  • Groundwater that is a drinking water supply
  • Surface water that is a drinking water supply
  • Groundwater or surface water that is not a drinking water supply
  • Air that poses a threat to public health
  • Soil that may pose a direct exposure or other hazard

In addition, sites may be listed for other actual or probable concerns, including:

  • Uncontrolled hazardous substances, such as leaking containers or impoundments
  • Soil, soil gas, indoor air, groundwater, or surface water that has contamination levels exceeding HDOH Tier 1 EALs
  • Adverse impacts to natural resources
  • Imminent danger of fire or explosion
  • A determination by the Director of a substantial endangerment to public health or the environment

2.4.3 Site Prioritization

Sites that are not considered emergencies (e.g., historic releases) and sites that may have been stabilized but not entirely cleaned up following emergency response actions are prioritized by the HEER Office SDAR Section for evaluation and/or response action (HAR 11-451-9(d)). The priority categories include:

  1. High priority sites
  2. Medium priority sites
  3. Low priority sites

Sites are categorized based on the number and/or severity of any potential environmental hazard concerns listed in Subsection 2.4.2, as well as other relevant factors identified through site assessment activities. New or additional site assessment data may result in a re-evaluation and re-categorization of the site priority for future response action. Review of site assessment data may also result in a site being identified/categorized as a "no further action" (NFA) site (see Subsection 2.5).

2.4.4 Site Assessment

Site Assessment is broadly defined in the Hawaiʻi SCP as activities that involve the collection of environmental data for decision-making purposes. The goal of a site assessment is to identify and remediate contaminated soil and groundwater that poses unacceptable environmental hazards, either under current site conditions or under uncontrolled, future conditions. The site assessment process can be divided into three stages:

  1. Site Investigation - determine the extent and magnitude of contamination
  2. Environmental Hazard Evaluation - determine the presence or absence of potential environmental hazards
  3. Response Action - determine appropriate actions to address the identified hazards

The purpose of the Site Investigation is to determine if the site is contaminated and, if so, the extent and magnitude of contamination above levels of potential concern. The investigation is carried out by the collection and analysis of samples of soil, groundwater, soil gas, surface water, sediment, air and/or other media as needed (see 4 through 11). The HDOH Tier 1 EALs may be used to identify contamination "above levels of potential concern." The investigation of contamination below the EALs is generally not necessary.

The presence of a contaminant at concentrations above the Tier 1 EALs indicates a potential environmental hazard. The nature and magnitude of tentatively identified hazards are described in the Environmental Hazard Evaluation (EHE) (see Section 13). In a very basic EHE, the presence or absence of potential hazards may simply be identified and the contaminated soil or groundwater quickly remediated without further assessment. In cases where remedial costs could be significant or the contamination cannot otherwise be easily remediated, a more advanced evaluation of specific environmental hazards (e.g., more detailed site-specific action level calculations) may be desired or even necessary (see Section 13 and Evaluation of Environmental Hazards at Sites with Contaminated Soil and Groundwater, HDOH, 2016). This will help make the final EHE more site-specific and ensure that the resulting response actions are as efficient and effective as possible.

HEER Office SDAR staff review the Site Investigation and EHE reports to make one of the following decisions:

  • The site does not pose a substantial threat to public health or the environment, and a No Further Action (NFA) letter will be issued
  • The site needs additional assessment to provide reliable data to make a decision whether a threat exists
  • The site poses a substantial threat to public health or the environment and response is necessary (either removal action or remedial action)

The Site Investigation and EHE reports are important decision-making documents and typically provide recommendations for additional actions. It is recommended that environmental consultants conducting site investigation and hazard evaluation activities work closely with HEER Office SDAR staff, as necessary, when developing site objectives and sampling plans, to review draft documents, and/or to consult on critical planning or implementation details. Good coordination between environmental consultants and SDAR staff providing oversight of the site activities may significantly improve the quality and timeliness of the site assessment actions.

The nature of any Response Action is generally very site-specific (see Sections 14, 15, and 16). For sites where the extent of contamination is very limited and/or time is of the essence, aggressive remediation of the contamination may be most cost-beneficial (e.g., excavation and disposal of contaminated soil). In other cases, it may be appropriate to aggressively remediate contamination that is causing immediate environmental hazards (e.g., free product discharging into a surface water body or vapor intrusion into a building) and prepare an Environmental Hazard Management Plan to address long-term management of contamination that must be left in place. See Section 19 for a discussion of implications of the various types of site closure.

The investigation, evaluation and response action process is iterative, with the need for additional data and closer evaluation of identified hazards continually re-evaluated as a better understanding of site conditions is gained. Understanding how the three stages of the site assessment process are linked and interdependent is crucial for ensuring that the project proceeds smoothly. As discussed in Section 3, the use of systematic planning in preparation and implementation of the site-investigation stage of the process is the first step.

2.4.5 Response Actions

If a hazardous substance release poses a substantial endangerment to public health or the environment, an appropriate response action is required.

The Hawaiʻi SCP defines two response action processes: the removal action process and the remedial action process. Due to the urgency of the threats posed and the need for prompt action, emergency responses are typically conducted under the removal action process, which is also used for most responses to historic releases. However, in a smaller number of cases, where the HEER Office determines that a more intensive level of review and scrutiny is needed or removal actions may be impractical, the remedial action process is used. Response Action Determination and Response Options

The HEER Office SDAR Section determines or approves whether a response action for environmental cleanups will be conducted as a removal action or a remedial action based on data provided in the site investigation and environmental hazard evaluation reports or additional assessment that may have been required.

Removal and remedial actions are not clearly distinguishable based on specific on-site activities. However, there are very real differences in the Hawaiʻi SCP requirements associated with these two response action options – these requirements are summarized below in Figures 2-2 and 2-3:

Differences in Required Documentation for Response Action Optionsumentation for Response Action Options
Removal Action Remedial Action
Removal Action Report Remedial Investigation Report
Remedial Alternatives Analysis Report (RAA)
Draft Response Action Memorandum (Draft RAM)
Final Response Action Memorandum (Final RAM)
Remedial Design/Remedial Action Workplan
Remedial Design/Remedial Action Report

Figure 2-2. Differences in Required Documentation for Response Action Options

Differences in Required Public Participation for Response Action Options
Removal Action Remedial Action
Public notice and comment
only required if:
  • Significant concern expressed/ likely
  • HEER Office decides in public interest
  • HDOH-lead and >$25,000 spent
Public Notice and Comment
Always Required
Must be published no later than 60 days after initiation of on-site removal activity Must be published at least 30 days prior to final remedial action selection

Figure 2-3. Differences in Public Participation for Response Action Options

Note: Voluntary Response Program (VRP) sites must follow the public participation steps of the remedial action process – see Subsection 20.3.

The Hawaiʻi SCP established two separate response action processes in order to provide site-specific flexibility in balancing two distinct needs in the release response process. In deciding when and how to respond to a particular hazardous substance release, the HEER Office must balance the need to act quickly against the need to require more detailed evaluation, analysis, and public participation.

Fires, explosions, acute exposures, and other situations that pose an imminent and substantial threat require quick response to prevent, minimize, and mitigate the damage being caused or threatened by hazardous substance release. Removal actions provide a streamlined process to quickly address these time-sensitive releases. Removal actions are also typically effective where site assessment activities have clearly documented that significant contamination in soil is limited in extent, and within the reach of common excavation equipment.

In other situations, where the relative effectiveness, technological and administrative feasibility, and cost of different cleanup methods may be less clear, a remedial action option may be more appropriate. Remedial actions may depend on the collection and analysis of site-specific and release-specific information that is complex, difficult or time-consuming to obtain, and subject to uncertainty and variation in interpretation. In addition, there may be significant community impacts and/or community concerns associated with more complex cleanups. In these cases, remedial actions offer a methodical, explicitly documented, step-by-step approach, including public notice and comment, to ensure that relevant questions and issues are identified and addressed prior to the selection of a final cleanup approach.

The Hawaiʻi SCP states that in deciding whether a response action should be a removal action or a remedial action, HDOH may consider factors including but not limited to:

  • Immediacy of the threat
  • Planning time
  • Implementation time
  • Risk to public health and the environment
  • Cost
  • Community interest
  • Site complexity
  • Availability of other response mechanisms
  • Other situations or factors that may pose an imminent and substantial endangerment Removal Actions

The Hawaiʻi SCP notes that removal actions are intended to:

  • Address all immediate threats
  • Permanently and completely address threats posed by entire site
  • Contribute to efficient performance of any anticipated remedial action that also may be necessary at the site

The HEER Office will determine if sufficient data is available in the site investigation and environmental hazard evaluation reports or additional site investigation documents to warrant a removal action decision. If inadequate data exists for this decision, additional site investigation will be required.

Removal actions are documented in a Removal Action Report (RAR) containing the following minimum elements:

  • Location of release or threat
  • Cause of release or threat
  • Site history
  • General site geology, hydrology, groundwater status, adjacent land uses
  • Distance to surface water bodies
  • Situation preceding decision to conduct removal
  • Efforts by Dept. to obtain response by other parties, if appropriate
  • The removal action and alternatives considered
  • Resources expended
  • Sampling methods and data on confirmation testing of removal action
  • Description of hazardous substances remaining on site

Where practical, the RAR is completed before initiation of the removal action. Typically, completion is practical before initiation of a removal action selected for environmental cleanups, but not in the case of emergency responses. In the case of removal actions selected for environmental cleanups, the "resources expended" and "description of hazardous substances remaining on site" report elements are added after the cleanup has been completed. For emergency responses, the RAR may be required after the emergency response has been completed. A very important component of any RAR includes a summary and analysis of confirmation testing conducted to demonstrate the removal action has been successful.

When a removal action option has been selected for environmental cleanups, the HEER Office has the option to require a public notice to be issued as well as a public comment period to allow review and comment on the response selection. The HEER Office initiates this notice and public comment if significant public concern has been expressed or is likely to be expressed, or it is decided to be in the public's interest. In these cases, any public comment received would be carefully considered and addressed before making a final decision on the appropriate response action.

See Section 14 for details on Removal Response Actions and Section 15 for details on Fast Track Cleanup, a voluntary program for expedited investigation and cleanup for removal responses. Remedial Actions

Remedial response actions are intended to:

  • Eliminate, reduce, prevent, minimize, mitigate or control risks to public health or environment
  • Provide for efficient, cost effective, and long-term reliable solutions, which are protective

The HEER Office will review the existing site investigation, environmental hazard evaluation report, and any other relevant site investigation reports to determine if adequate data exists to support selection of a remedial action option and to develop the required reports under the remedial action option.

Because remedial response actions are typically more complex than removal response actions, it is not uncommon for additional site investigation to be required to support appropriate decisions in the following required reports:

  • Remedial Investigation and Environmental Hazard Evaluation
  • Remedial Alternatives Analysis (RAA)
  • Draft Response Action Memorandum (DRAFT RAM)

Additional site investigation might focus on more sampling to further delineate contaminant distribution on the site, identify likely remedial action options and applicable technologies (including presumptive remedies - remedies demonstrated to work well in other similar circumstances), or fill other data gaps related to remedial alternatives that are important for decision-making. This additional site investigation for remedial action responses is generally included in a Remedial Investigation (RI) Report.

The RAA Report provides a comparison of various remedial strategies to clean up contamination on the site. Typically, at least 5 different strategies (one of which is a "no action" strategy) are initially selected and analyzed, with at least 3 of the strategies judged most appropriate then presented and compared in detail in the RAA report. Primary considerations in weighing the strengths and weaknesses of remedial alternatives include:

  • Effectiveness
  • Technological and administrative feasibility
  • Cost

Based on these considerations, comparisons, and associated information a preferred or preliminary remedial alternative is selected for the site and documented in the RAA Report.

The Draft RAM is a concise summary of site investigation and environmental hazard data, supplemental remedial investigation data (if obtained), the remedial alternatives analysis, and the preliminary remedial alternative selected for the site. The Draft RAM is intended for review and public comment. A public notice regarding availability of the Draft RAM, and a minimum 30-day comment period are provided for review. In most cases additional public scoping actions such as providing fact sheets and mailings are conducted, and in some cases public meetings are held to encourage review and comment on the Draft RAM (see Subsection 2.4.6, Public Participation).

A Final RAM, documenting the final site remedial alternative approved by the HEER Office is provided after completion of the public comment period on the Draft RAM. All public comments received are taken into consideration and addressed in the Response Summary section of the Final RAM. Review and consideration of public comments may result in a different remedial alternative being selected, or additional details on a remedial alternative being specified. The Final RAM is also made available for public review.

A remedial design/remedial action work plan is typically required for the site to ensure that the selected remedial alternative will be appropriately implemented and evaluated for effectiveness. A Remedial Design/Remedial Action Report documents the implementation and final evaluation of the selected remedial alternative (on complex sites this may be a series of reports over time).

See Section16 for details on Remedial Response Actions.

2.4.6 Public Participation

Significant differences in public participation requirements for removal or remedial action options specified in the Hawaiʻi SCP were discussed in Subsection, Response Action Determination and Response Options. In general, public participation activities for removal response actions are at the discretion of the HEER Office, except for the unusual circumstance of a state-funded removal action anticipated to cost in excess of $25,000. In addition, the public notice and comment period (at least 30 days) for removal action activities, if provided at the discretion of the HEER Office, is not required to be completed prior to implementation of the removal action itself, but within 60 days of initiation of the on-site removal activity.

For remedial response actions, public notice and a minimum 30-day public comment period to review the Draft RAM and associated documents and provide comment are required under the Hawaiʻi SCP. This public notice and comment period must be completed prior to adopting the Final RAM and implementing the selected remedial alternative. A public meeting may also be held to review and discuss the Draft RAM, at the discretion of the HEER Office. Voluntary Response Program (VRP) sites must follow the public participation steps of the remedial action process (see Subsection 20.3, VRP).

See Sections 14 and 16 for additional detail on Public Participation requirements for Removal and Remedial Response Actions, respectively. Public Notices

Public notices, where required or provided at the discretion of the HEER Office, primarily advertise the availability of the administrative record for a particular site, the proposed response action, and the opportunity to review the record and submit public comment on the proposed response action within a specified comment period (at least 30 days). When a decision has been made by the HEER Office to hold a public meeting regarding the proposed response action, the meeting is also advertised in the public notice. Generally, public notices would provide the following type of information:

  • Location and size of site
  • Hazardous substances and media being addressed
  • Availability of key site documents such as the Draft RAR for a proposed removal action or a Draft RAM for a remedial response action - these key documents are made available in a local library, on the HEER Office website, and/or at the HEER Office in Honolulu
  • Availability of the full administrative record for the site in the Honolulu HEER Office
  • Availability of a "fact sheet" or an executive summary document containing concise summary information on the site and response action proposed, with contact number/e-mail to request
  • Solicitation of written or oral comments on the proposed response action within the specified public comment period of at least 30 days, the address and e-mail to send comments; who to call for questions
  • If a public meeting scheduled - date, time, and location of the meeting

Note: Publication date of the public notice is the official start of the public comment period (at least 30 calendar days).

Public notices are typically posted for one or two days in the "Public Notices" section of a general circulation newspaper in the county affected by the response action.

The HEER Office project manager for the site will also send a copy of the public notice to the HDOH Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) bulletin editor for publication in The Environmental Notice. The OEQC publishes this bulletin every two weeks to inform the public of all projects being proposed in the State that are subject to public review and comment

In some cases, the HEER Office project manager may also elect to send or request notice information be sent via direct mail or e-mail to inform known interested parties directly about the proposed response action, and to solicit their review and input. If this approach is taken, a letter is typically sent from the HEER Office that contains information similar to what is published in the public notice, and a brief fact sheet or executive summary from the Draft RAM or Draft RAR as an enclosure/attachment. The letter or e-mail would then be sent to target groups or individuals such as:

  • Known community groups in the site area (e.g. community/neighborhood associations or councils)
  • Property owners surrounding the site
  • Political representatives of the site area (i.e. City or County Council member(s), Legislative Senator/Representative from the site area)
  • Public interest groups, if known and likely to have interest
  • Other interested parties, if known Public Meetings

If the HEER Office determines there is sufficient public interest, a public meeting is scheduled to provide information about and seek comment on a proposed response action at a particular site. Public meetings are typically set up with the following provisions:

  • The meeting is typically held in the evening on a weekday at a well known public location near the site, and/or coordinated with local community group meetings
  • The public meeting is scheduled to be held in about the middle of the public comment period to allow time for interested parties to review materials before the meeting, and to provide time for comments sometime after the public meeting is held
  • The meeting is conducted by the HEER office (often with the participation of the site owner and/or their environmental consultant), a sign in sheet is provided to document attendance, and minutes or a transcript of the meeting is required (these minutes are made part of site file and available for review on request)
  • Site maps, photos, or other relevant information can be posted on walls of meeting room for review by public
  • Copies of a site fact sheet and/or the Draft RAM or Draft RAR are on hand for distribution at the public meeting
  • The HEER Office project manager and/or site environmental consultant generally provides an opening presentation summarizing the site, nature of contamination, remedial options considered, and the preliminary remedial option selected for public review (e.g. briefly summarize information contained in the Draft RAM or Draft RAR)
  • The HEER Office project manager, risk assessor, and site environmental consultants should be available to answer questions during and/or after the presentation on the site
  • Public comment on the proposed response action is solicited during the meeting and documented. The HEER Office reiterates the dates that public comment will be accepted and notes that all public comment will be addressed during development of the Final RAM or Final RAR (i.e. final response plan could change as a result of public comment)
  • Comment "forms" can be provided to those at the public meeting to fill out and leave at end of meeting or to mail in during the public comment period Response to Public Comments

Based on public comments received during the comment period on the Draft RAM or the Draft RAR, the HEER Office project manager will reassess appropriateness of the preliminary response action, make a final decision on the remedial or removal action, and document the decision in the record. The Final RAM or Final RAR, which addresses public comments received and provides supporting analysis, is made available for public inspection and copying in the affected county prior to start of the response action.

The HEER Office will generally consider comments submitted by interested persons after the close of the public comment period only to the extent the comments contain significant information not contained elsewhere in the record which could not have been submitted during the public comment period and which substantially supports the need to significantly alter the response action.

If new information is made available before the Draft RAM or Draft RAR is finalized that fundamentally changes the response action from the original proposal, the HEER Office will seek additional public comment on a revised Draft RAM or Draft RAR that explains the fundamental changes from the original, or will provide a discussion in the Final RAM/Final RAR of the fundamental changes if the HEER Office determines such changes could be reasonably anticipated by the public based of the alternatives and other information in the record.

After a response action decision document has been finalized, the following record requirements apply:

  • The HEER Office may add documents to the administrative record after the decision document has been finalized - if the documents concern a portion of the response action decision that the decision document does not address or defers to be decided at a later date
  • The HEER Office may hold additional public comment periods or extend the time of comment on any issues concerning selection of the response action after the decision document has been finalized