Not Cleaning Up; February 1999; Scientific American Magazine; by Gibbs; 2 Page(s)
Recent estimates put the number of U.S. sites with dangerously polluted soil and groundwater at more than 300,000. The annual bill for cleaning them comes to $9 billion. These numbers will probably rise before they fall. So why, despite such a ready market, are nearly all the many environmental firms that tried in the past decade to sell faster, more effective cleanup technologies dead, dying or frustrated? And why, in nine out of 10 cases, is contaminated groundwater being treated by only the slowest, most costly methods?
A 1997 report by the National Research Council blamed regulations that perversely encourage polluters to dither and delay, by putting those who clean up messes quickly and thoroughly at a financial disadvantage. "Our collective experience is that aggressive technologies meet with resistance," says P. Suresh C. Rao, a soil scientist at the University of Florida who chaired the NRC study.